On January 3rd, Copyscape Premium users, myself included, received an email announcing that the company was transitioning to a new pricing structure. That change would do away with the five cents per search rate that Copyscape had become synonymous with and replace it with a per-word charge that would start at 3 cents per search.
The text of the email, which can be found on their website, said that the new pricing policy would take effect on April 2nd. However, effectively immediately, Copyscape users are seeing their balance in a dollar amount, rather than the usual credits. However, until April 2nd, all searches will continue to cost 5 cents each.
When the new changes do take effect, it will impact all non-free Copyscape users with some seeing lower per-search rates and others seeing higher, often much higher, rates.
To understand how this works we need to break down how the changes work and see if Copyscape is the right choice for your project.
Understanding the Changes
Traditionally, Copyscape Premium searches have cost a flat rate of 5 cents (USD) apiece. After April 2nd, that base rate will drop to 3 cents per search but it will only cover the first two hundred words. After that, each additional 100 words will tack on another cent.
This means, as long as what you search for is less than 400 words, the rate will be the same or less. If your search has more than that, it will be higher, likely much higher. For example, my previous year-end recap is slightly over 1,800 words long. Under the new system, it will cost 20 cents to check for duplicates of it online. That’s a four-fold increase.
The reason for the cost increase, according to Copyscape, is because checking long articles takes up more resources and their flat rate required short searches to subsidize longer ones.
It’s worth noting that this rate is not that expensive nor is this per-word approach out of line with the industry. For example, PlagScan, uses a similar per-100-word fee (though each 100 words represents a “PlagPoint”) and there, at the cheapest publicly available quantity you get 1500 PlagPoints for $50 (Note: Bulk deals are available to commercial users at reduced rates). That makes it 30 points per dollar or roughly 3 cents per one hundred words.
When looked at that way, Copyscape is less than 1/3 per 100 words than PlagScan.
Obviously, cost is just one factor when choosing a plagiarism detection service. But it is a factor that must be considered and the change in Copyscape’s approach will still change how it is used.
Changing the Use Case
As someone who does a wide variety of plagiarism checks, I tend to view plagiarism checkers as tools with ideal use cases. I wouldn’t use an inappropriate plagiarism checker any more than I would use a hammer to pound in a screw.
Copyscape’s strength, in my experience, has always been doing quick checks of relatively short form content, ideally content that’s already on a web page. Copyscape is not appropriate for a deep dive into a dissertation or research paper, but is useful for checking to see if a web page exists elsewhere online.
I’ve used it either by itself or in conjunction with other services when doing content analyses of websites, where I confirm that the content is authentic and/or determine the extent of the content theft problem.
But, while the increase in cost will likely be small with the type of content I routinely check using Copyscape, it will lose its simplicity in pricing. Historically it’s been easy to know the cost or a larger project simply by calculating the number of searches I needed and multiplying by five cents. Now the math will get more difficult.
I don’t think it will drastically change how I use Copyscape day to day, but it might have a drastic impact on how I use it with larger projects, where it was often a supplemental tool.
In short, for quick, cheap curiosity searches, Copyscape will likely remain one of the best. But, for larger projects, I’ll have to evaluate it more closely. The extra cost and extra complexity may make it not worthwhile.
That will be something to evaluate case-by-case in the future.
To be completely clear, Copyscape is not doing anything wrong here and, in truth, is going about it very well. Not only are they giving at three-month warning, grandfathering previously-bought credits and generally working with their users, they’re executing it in a way that will actually lower costs for some.
This is a textbook example of a well-implemented price change.
As long as they are transparent about how much searches cost before running them, it’s a completely understandable and legitimate approach to charging for plagiarism searches.
Still, its unique pricing system also gave it a unique place among the plagiarism detection services. With the shift, it will lose some of that place. While it’s still a great tool for many types of searches, it will be interesting to see if and how Copyscape is used long term.
Flat rate pricing may have been untenable, but it will be missed.
Disclosure: I am a paid consultant and blogger for Turnitin, a competitor to Copyscape.