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09-10-2008 Search Engine Detects Content Thieves - the interview with Dr. S. Kawczynski, CEO of Plagiat.pl

Warsaw (PL), September 2008 - Dr. Sebastian Kawczynski is CEO of Plagiat.pl, owner of the service www.strikeplagiarism.com. Kirsten Seegmüller interviewed him for CHECK.point eLearning on plagiarism, which has become a problem in education, with students copying the work of others instead of writing their own papers. Kawczynski discusses the importance of knowledge availability while making it clear that plagiarism has nothing to do with open content.

Mr. Kawczynski, why do you fight against plagiarism?

Sebastian Kawczynski: While I was working at university, I saw the problems with stolen content, and when friends asked me to make a system to detect plagiarism, I developed a search engine.

Shouldn’t knowledge be available to all so that it can circulate?

Sebastian Kawczynski: Of course everybody should have as much access to information as possible. But when money is involved, the matter becomes more complicated. For example, when a government spends a lot of money on science, and scientists steal results from their colleagues, they steal money from the state. Stealing cars is no argument to push motorization. Knowledge follows the same rules. Stolen knowledge is not real; it is artificial, and copying does not add to the general worldwide knowledge as in open content.

But students have always copied their homework from others.

Sebastian Kawczynski: Yes, but today it is much easier to cheat without being caught. Twenty years ago, students had to go to a library or physically take a copybook of their classmates and write down the answers with their own hand. It was a logistical issue: it took time and required physical presence. Furthermore, the owner knew that his work was being copied. This form of plagiarism was easy to detect because the teachers knew the work of all their students.

And today?

Sebastian Kawczynski: Nowadays the possibilities are much wider: the internet is omnipresent, search technologies have changed, and it only takes a few seconds to download material or to copy and paste passages. Since the sources are widespread, the teachers don’t know where the content comes from. There are web pages that offer big databases from different cities, and the students make sure that they don’t steal content that has been produced in their own school.

What can teachers do to avoid plagiarism?

Sebastian Kawczynski: They should change the exercises more often. It is not a good idea to give the same subjects every year. When they let their students work on different topics, it makes it harder to steal ideas and content. But of course, this means more work for the teachers.

Can you take a guess at the percentage of students’ homework that is done alone and how much is copied from other sources?

Sebastian Kawczynski: There is no data because universities don’t like to communicate these figures. But studies in the USA have shown that in 2005, half of the students said that they had used stolen material at some time.

How should cheaters be punished?

Sebastian Kawczynski: Punishment is important, but not the main issue. For sure plagiarists must be aware of unavoidable punishment, but teachers should communicate to their students that cheating may hurt them more than the teacher. They will not be well educated when they copy, and later they risk their job when they steal ideas from business colleagues.

But of course, these arguments are not always helpful. Sometimes students only react to pressure, when they know that their text passages can be tracked in the internet. Honest students are a big help, too because they don’t want content thieves to receive better grades for stolen texts than they get for their own creative work.

Can your search engine compare non-text elements like pictures too?

Sebastian Kawczynski: We are working on it, but so far our software can only compare text. We are also developing tools to detect text passages in different languages that have been translated. But that is a difficult matter.

You certify universities – how can you control that they are plagiarism-free?

Sebastian Kawczynski: We give them access to software and advise them how to use it. We do interviews, control and verify that they use our search engine correctly, and when we see that the system works well, we give the certificate.

Luciano DeCrescenco, an Italian writer, says: "Stealing from one is plagiarism, stealing from many is research." What do you think of this argument?

Sebastian Kawczynski: It’s funny and clever, but when scientists only collect sentences from colleagues to publish their book, the paper is worth nothing. In my opinion, stealing from many is still plagiarism, and research needs its own unique ideas. More about Dr. Kawczynski's search engine to detect plagiarism

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