When bloggers talk about protecting their work from plagiarism, one name gets more buzz than any other: Copyscape.
Though I’ve been very critical of Copyscape in the past on this site, it is clear that they are the only company currently serving this niche and many people are excited about their services.
However, the biggest criticism they’ve faced is that their free service is too limited (only ten results per search, a few searches per month) and that their main paid service, Copysentry, is too expensive.
To answer those criticisms, Copyscape recently began offering a series of premium services, targeted in the space between their free and automatic offerings. The idea to be affordable enough that more bloggers and Webmasters would upgrade to their paid offerings and not rely so heavily on the free service.
Unfortunately, as great as the idea is, the execution of this service severely limits its effectiveness, thus only prolonging the agonizing wait until a real plagiarism detection/cessation service comes to light.
What You Get
At the core of Copyscape Premium is an unlimited version of its free service. For a rate of five cents per search (minimum $5 purchase required), you get unlimited searches with unlimited results. You also get the ability to paste text directly into a text box for searching, instead of just submitting Web pages, and an API that you can use to automate and refine submissions to the service.
However, the service goes above and beyond that as well. It offers a plagiarism case tracking service that lets you add discovered cases to an inbox, add notes to them and close them out when they’re handled. Users also have the ability to blacklist certain sites from the results, useful if your own site keeps popping up, and, according to the site, a more robust detection algorithm.
On the surface, it sounds like a great deal. Five cents per search is very reasonable and the case tracking technology alone, if done right, could be worth the price of admission by itself.
That’s why it is so frustrating, and heartbreaking, to report that the service itself is a monumental letdown in its current form. Perhaps not much in the way of a waste of money, but a tremendous waste of time.
The process of setting up an account with Copyscape Premium was simple enough. I registered my username and deposited $5 into my account for a total of 100 credits.
I then sought out one of my earlier poems, one that I knew was plagiarized and copied heavily, and searched for it using the URL. Copyscape spun on it for a few seconds and returned me to the results page, which had only one sentence on it “No results found…” (see screenshot above).
Confused, I figured Copyscape was struggling with the large number of comments on my URL. I copied and pasted the text of the poem into the text search option but it was to the same result (see second screenshot).
I then exited Copyscape, performed a simple Google search for the poem and instantly found dozens of suspect pages. Copyscape was simply not picking up any of the copies of the work.
I repeated the experiment with four or five other works, using a combination of URL and text searches. After ten searches, Copyscape failed to find even one plagiarist, even though all of the works I searched for were confirmed to have plagiarized copies on the Web.
Copyscape did return a single result on at least one of the text searches, but the result lead to a legitimate use of my work, not a plagiarist. It would be a theme that would repeat itself over and over in my attempts to use Copyscape Premium.
But Wait… There’s More
Adding to the ineffectiveness of their search is the fact that Copyscape does not allow you to add text searches into your “View Cases” inbox. As a result, I could not test their tracking system with the results I had on hand.
To do that, I had to punch in the URL for Plagiarism Today. That turned up 17 results but almost all of them were junk. The results included people quoting from my sidebar, sites using similar plugins (such as the Share This! plugin) or sites legitimately citing articles. The only one with a substantial amount of reproduced content was a Numly Verification Page, which I created myself through my Numly plugin. Still, it was good enough to test their case tracking service with for the moment.
Unfortunately, that service left a great deal to be desired as well. You create a case by clicking on a button in the Copyscape frame that’s visible when you visit a similar site. Once you create a case, you can add notes to it, close the case and reopen it. However, there isn’t much else you can do. Closed cases remain in the inbox, there are no sorting tools, and the notes are not lengthy enough to add any correspondence or information beyond a few words.
A simple spreadsheet or, even better, a full database could serve this purpose significantly better. It is convinient, but ultimately useless.
All in all, I spent about 20 of my 100 searches. I discovered no actual plagiarists and the vast majority of my results came back with no matches found. That is especially worrisome since my text searches should have, in theory, turned up my own site at the very least. After all, I only blacklisted my own domain for the last few searches.
Fortunately, the process only cost me $5 ($1 in actual searches) but it did eat up over one hour’s worth of time spread across two days. In that time, I could have easily set up dozens of Google Alerts and received automated, free and effective plagiarism detection.
In the end, there is very little good that I can say about Copyscape Premium. The results were ineffective, the tracking system was almost completely useless and the entire service seemed inept at finding plagiarists even when they were hidden in plain sight.
I really wanted to enjoy and rave about this system. I wanted it to be the great comeback for Copyscape in my eyes. Sadly, it was nothing of the sort.
The price point is great, the searches are lightning quick and the idea itself is wonderful. If Copyscape Premium actually did what it promised to do, it would easily be the best solution available right now.
However, in its current state, I can not recommend it at all. It is nothing more than a waste of money and time.
Hopefully, one of the companies that is developing plagiarism-detection products will step up and produce a real service that will fill this obvious void. The technology seems to exist, we’re just waiting for someone to put together all of the pieces.