Revelation - essay mill can make me rich

July 16, 2004

'The website, which offers a database of essays for up to $30 each, is up for sale for about £15,000'

A biblical studies graduate student who created an online essay-plagiarism business as part of a website design course not only received top marks from his tutors but is also hoping to sell the site for £15,000, writes Phil Baty.

Anthony Heacock, a PhD student at Sheffield University, sat an internet design course late last year. On the course, he designed a dummy "essay mill" website to allow fellow students to copy coursework - and received a grade of 68 per cent for the project from tutors.

The site, www.thesispress.com. which he is trying to sell for about £15,000, offers a database of essays up to doctorate level for up to $30 (£16) each. It offers a 20 per cent commission to all students who supply essays to the site's database for sale.

It says: "Our website offers you the chance to download papers for use with your studies, as you decide fit. And, what's more, you can take all the credit!

"All downloadable works are anonymous, and can be used for either background reading or direct copying. We at ThesisPress do not hold a moral stance on 'cheating'... We do not judge you, as we believe that the decision is entirely yours - our only purpose is to provide the facilities for the downloading of academic works for your convenience."

It adds: "We guarantee your secret is safe with us."

Mr Heacock said this week that his website was currently running on the internet as a "dummy" only.

He said he was not selling essays but he wanted to gauge interest with a view to selling the domain name. After he was first contacted by The Times Higher , the site was altered to include a statement saying that the site was a dummy - and that it was up for sale.

He said: "I personally do not wish to condone plagiarism, any more than the host of other e-format information sites that offer e-publications on demand - many of which are available on university library e-databases.

"The onus of honesty and ethics is on the student, and I would insist that any submissions were legitimate, in so far as the submitter held the copyright of the material."

He said that he hoped to sell the domain name for about £15,000 - to pay off debts accumulated over ten years of studying.

Mr Heacock bought the domain name, thesispress.com, nearly two years ago.

The idea for the essay-mill business came to him after studying an MSc in information management at Sheffield and working for Sheffield Academic Press.

"I enrolled on a part-time module in effective web design at the adult education department to gain skills to improve my curriculum vitae, and did the website after the tutor said it was OK to do anything we wanted, including any business or personal interest sites."

The business venture has nothing to do with his current PhD at Sheffield.

This week, a spokeswoman for Sheffield said: "This is a dummy website and has not been used to plagiarise work, merely as part of an assignment.

However, the content of this site has raised serious issues, and we will be investigating fully.

"The University of Sheffield in no way endorses the content of this website, or any other [site] aimed at helping students to plagiarise work."

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