Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Anti-plagiarism software expands

Businesses seek tools for catching copycats

By May Wong
The Associated Press

White-collar copycats may be less inclined to pilfer the words of others now that software designed to ferret out plagiarism is moving out of academia and into the business world.

For years, educators at colleges and universities have marshaled software tools to ensure that their students' work is original.

Now, tainted by scandals or leery of the Internet's copy-enabling power, a growing number of newspapers, law firms and other businesses are using data-sifting tools that can cross-check billions of digital documents and swiftly recognize patterns in just seconds.

Unlike Google and other search engines that find matches to typed-in keywords, an advanced plagiarism-detection service such as iParadigms LLC's makes a digital fingerprint of an entire document and compares it against material on the Internet and in other sources, including proprietary academic and media databases.

Even the U.N. Security Council has begun to protect its credibility this way, using iParadigm's technology since last fall to ensure the originality of reports by its researchers and freelance writers.

Oakland, Calif.-based iParadigms started in 1996 with a computer program to help researchers at the University of California, Berkeley inspect undergraduates' papers. Today, its Turnitin plagiarism-detector is used by about 2,500 high schools and colleges in the United States and 1,000 more abroad. It launched a commercial version, iThenticate, in January.

Other plagiarism-detection providers, including Glatt Plagiarism Services, MyDropBox LLC, and CFL Software Development also report growing business outside the educational sector.

IParadigms software helped The Hartford Courant conclude last month that Central Connecticut State University's president, Richard Judd, had committed plagiarism in an op-ed piece after a reader said it may have lifted sentences from The New York Times.

The Connecticut newspaper tried an Internet keyword search but without much success. IParadigm's software later showed that the opinion piece included not only material from the Times but also three other sources.

The criticism upended the administrator's career - Judd, 66, announced March 19 that he will retire July 1.

The Courant doesn't plan to routinely check every story for plagiarism - just submissions for the editorial page, says John Zakarian, editorial page editor.

"We've come to rely more and more on the Internet," he said, "and it's not humanly possible to verify every sentence and word."

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