Disarming fellow cheats death

June 30, 2006

Someone muttered that it was like being thrown to the lions as Peter Taylor, the man behind a string of websites that provide model essays for students, took the stage to address more than a hundred of the UK's leading anti-plagiarism experts, writes Phil Baty.

The delegates, gathered for their international conference in Gateshead, deal with the consequences of Mr Taylor's business on a daily basis - spotting the students who pass off essays from his site as their own - and the expectation was that he would receive a serious mauling.

But almost immediately Mr Taylor disarmed his audience. His company, Acumen Professional Intelligence, owns sites such as "academicDB" - billed as "a database of 15,889 UK university essays and pieces of coursework written by students from virtually all disciplines".

Mr Taylor insisted that every site included clear warnings against plagiarism and said that his company was determined to work with the sector to "tackle the problem head on". He said he would even add his massive databases to those checked by the Turnitin anti-plagiarism software used by most universities.

He insisted: "There is very much an academic relevance in offering essays as examples of learning. This has a real academic use. Students can learn quickly from the best ideas of previous students.

"The biggest problem that our users face is the demonising of what we offer. When students are told that an essay site is a bad resource, they are not going to cite it properly.

"If there is a change of view in the academic community, it will encourage users to cite the work properly."

By the end, he appeared to have won his audience over.

Even Malcolm Read, executive secretary of the universities' Joint Information Systems Committee, which runs the plagiarism advisory service, accepted that he could "see value in essay banks".

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