A recent posting in an OCC forum* got me investigating again.** The post included a recommendation for the free “plagiarism scanner” Viper.
I have warned about Viper, and its parent company scanmyessay.com in an earlier post, Authentic authenticity. There I noted that Viper’s then Terms and Conditions included the statement
When you scan a document, you agree that 9 months after completion of your scan, we may upload your essay to our student essays database so that other students may use it to help them write their own essays. You agree that any right you may have to remuneration for such use of documents is waived.
Some of the other sites using that same “student essays database” are paper mills, selling on pre-written student essays. Viper and Scanmyessay may be free to use, but the cost is the possible loss of one’s original essay, one’s rights to it, and the possible loss of one’s reputation.
That wording is slightly different in the T&C on the current site:
When you scan a document, you agree that 9 months after completion of your scan, we will automatically upload your essay to our student essays database which will appear on one of our network of websites so that other students may use it to help them write their own essays. You agree that any right you may have to remuneration for such use of documents is waived.
The differences are small. What was “… we may upload your essay …” has become “we will automatically upload your essay,” and “to our student essays database” has been expanded to read “to our student essays database which will appear on one of our network of websites.”
This is a curiously “honest” site, openly admitting what it does with your essay, even if what it does with your essay may be for unethical purposes. What is more – at least, more interesting, curious – is that Scanmyessay claims to be different to other free services: in the page “How does Viper use my essay/dissertation?” is a paragraph headed “Do you have copyright to my work?” to which the assertive answer is:
Absolutely not! Your work is still your own. You effectively give us a licence to use it in a particular way, which we have carefully outlined above. We don’t have the right to do anything else with your work and you will always own the copyright. Be very wary of other scanners and websites such as Coursework.info – when you upload work to them you grant them an irrevocable licence to do whatever they want with that work.
In other words, you still own the copyright (but because you have given us the right, we may use it on our sister sites and gain income therefrom). Totally unlike other sites, shame on them. They will take your work and use it as they will.
The caveat continues in the following paragraph:
Be cautious when using other scanners that claim to be “entirely free”. Someone has to pay for the development costs and that is often funded by taking the student’s essay and doing something with it. This might happen as soon as you scan your work, meaning that if your University scans your work later, you’ll be flagged for plagiarism.
(But as you have given us permission to do take your work and do something with it – whether or not you have bothered to read the terms and conditions – it’s okay for us to do just this.)
Scanmyessay makes much of the fact that re-using essays in this way will not hurt a student because essays are not made available through sister services for at least 9 months after submission. Not necessarily so, and students innocently using Scanmyessay’s services could come under suspicion long after the original work was submitted.
The Scanmyessay site offers temptation, including direct links to UKEssays. That site’s services include correction and proof-reading services, and essay- and dissertation-writing services. And once again, a totally ethical Dissertation Writing Service:
We don’t resell or publish the dissertation you paid for; it’s unique and just for you.
One final point about Viper: I am not alone in my doubts about the service. Like me, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today worries about the need to download their software onto your own computer; what is more, in two reviews in 2010 and 2013 respectively, Bailey wrote:
Unfortunately, the results were less than spectacular and, truth be told the application fell almost completely flat (Review: Viper Anti-Plagiarism Scanner)
I found the service, which can be found at ScanMyEssay.com, to be slow, poor at detecting matches and generally far less useful than similar services (Viper Plagiarism Checker: Posting Your Essays on Essay Mills.
In her 2010 comparison study, Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff rated the Viper/ScanmyEssay software as “Useless,” further remarking that
Viper has the distinction of being the worst system for detecting plagiarism, coming in last with just 24% of the effectiveness points on all test cases.
And there is a long online conversation (dated 2009) in the Essayscam forum, WARNING: If you use Viper / Raptor Plagiarism Scanner / ScanMyEssay, you waive copyright to your own property!
Once again: Viper/ScanmyEssay appears to be upfront about its intentions and its use of other people’s work. Other services – and especially the free services – might not be. (An alternative title for this post could well be, “The cost of “free”).
* OCC : the Online Curriculum Centre of the International Baccalureate (IB), includes a number of subject and interest-group forums; access is limited.
** This has been a very busy year; I have not been able to spend as much time on this site as I would have liked. The year is calming down, and I hope to post more frequently. Thank you for staying with me!