Yesterday, I decided to take the day off and, instead of writing my own post, to do what many students do: Just buy a paper off of Fiverr.
You can read the result of my whim of a purchase here. Bear in mind that it is unedited and unaltered, save for adjusting the format to fit on this site.
Today, I want to look back on the process of buying the paper, the quality of the end product and what it all means.
So, here’s how to buy a $10 paper on and why it’s probably a very bad idea.
Buying the Paper
I’d used Fiverr only once in the past. It was in 2012, I purchased a new Facebook graphics pack for the site. I paid $5 for it and never used it.
Needless to say, I’m not an expert on Fiverr but the first step was to sign up for a new account (having my account be firstname.lastname@example.org) might trip some alarms. So I used a personal Gmail account that I have and simply searched for “Essays”.
There, I ran into my first problem. There was a slew of likely-legitimate essay editing services in addition to the essay mill posts.
Still, with a bit of tweaking of the search terms, I was able to get it to just show me those that were going to write an essay for me. From there, I had a problem.
Though most searching would simply be looking for a paper to turn in, I was looking for something for publication. However, I also didn’t want to tip off that this work was going to be read by the public because I wanted this to be an honest example of the kind of writing this person produced.
So, I began searching for someone that was both in my price range but also promised to transfer the copyrights to me. With a few clicks I found the person to the right:
While not exactly the most confidence-building transfer of copyright, it also made his intentions pretty clear. As such, it would be difficult to argue that I didn’t at least have an implied license to use it as I see fit.
To make things even better, the person claimed he was an expert at both essay writing and legal writing, making him perfect for any topic I chose for Plagiarism Today.
Satisfied I’d found the “right” person, I agreed to pay $10 for a 500-600 word essay. After a $2.50 service fee, my total came $12.50, which I paid through PayPal.
It was then that I had to pick a topic. I had decided going in that I wanted an essay on the “History of Copyright” so I indicated as much.
From there, I hit submit. However, here my ignorance of Fiverr took over. Immediately after submission I had a message from the person that I flatly did not see. He simply said, “Hello sir” with the intent to speak with me about the assignment.
However, I didn’t realize there was a messenger in Fiverr and didn’t see the message until I returned after learning that the assignment had been completed.
And with that, the paper was done, downloaded and reformatted into yesterday’s post.
So, was it any good? The answer, to my mind at least, is no. But that doesn’t mean it can be completely dismissed.
Reviewing the Work
From a writing standpoint, the paper is something of a slog to read. It’s nearly 600 words but is only three paragraphs, each with their own subheads.
However, more importantly, it’s riddled with mistakes. Those errors include (bearing in mind I requested a U.S. focus):
- The Statute of Anne is misspelled “The British Statute of Ann”
- Claims that “food or drink of any person” is covered under copyright law.
- That a copyright violation “can result in a fine of $200 to $120,000”
- That the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) was “enacted after the first commercial success of the Mickey Mouse cartoon”
- That copyright covers inventions and inventors (those are covered by patent)
This is just a partial list. However, because the essay is so confusingly written, there’s almost certainly more.
That said, one area the paper did pass muster was performing a plagiarism check. I ran it through a pair of plagiarism detection systems and neither found anything suspicious. From the point of view of a copy-detecting system, it was original.
One of the checkers did find evidence of rewriting from Wikipedia in the last paragraph, but the total percentage matching remained low and very little text was copied directly.
However, in spite of that, there are still citation issues. The paper is 600 words online and lists dozens of “facts” but only has one citation. It’s also clear, looking at the plagiarism analyses, that the author relied heavily on Wikipedia and not primary sources.
That said, what did one expect from a $10 essay? I knew going into this that I wasn’t going to receive a well-researched and immaculately-written paper. That was more or less the point.
The question instead is: Did I get a paper that’s good enough for the job? That’s a more difficult one to answer.
Would it Work?
When I tweeted out the first post, I got a lot of interesting feedback on it. Most of it was taking pot shots at the questionable grammar and misinformation in the article.
However, Christian Moriarty, the Professor of Ethics and Law and Academic Chair at the Applied Ethics Institute at St. Petersburg College, had a different take:
My analysis assumes that the instructor that read it was both paying close attention and relatively knowledgeable about the subject. While anyone that’s familiar with copyright law will find the information provided comical, an instructor reading this might not have that information or might not have the time/energy to thoroughly examine the essay.
This is especially true if this paper were not submitted in a law-related class. Imagine if it were submitted into a history class about the history of the printing press. It would likely pass through any plagiarism detection the school uses and could fool a teacher, especially if the student is struggling with their writing already.
It’s easy when analyzing something like this to assume that instructors are perfect, superhuman machines that would catch the bad information and writing. However, they have gaps in their knowledge, they get tired, they are human.
So could this paper work? Maybe. It would depend heavily on the class it was in, the assignment it was submitted for, the instructor that read it and why it’s being submitted. While it wouldn’t do well as part of a thesis or dissertation, it might just pass muster for a small assignment that neither the teacher nor the student took too seriously.
Ultimately, there are reasons to both laugh at and be concerned by this paper. It was easy to buy, incredibly cheap and I was able to do it all through sites and services seen as legitimate (or at worst borderline).
Though it was not well written and filled with misinformation, it may still be useful enough for some nefarious purposes. A student would still take a huge risk submitting a paper like this (including the risk of a low grade even if the plagiarism isn’t spotted), but some may find that risk worthwhile.
This is a challenge for educators and not one that will be solved immediately by technology. Though there’s been a lot of progress made in detecting authorship, there’s still a lot of work to be done in that space.
Right now, the best tools are vigilance by instructors, assignments that discourage or thwart plagiarism and finding ways to spot and proactively help students that might be in trouble.
This is a problem that’s easy to both under- and overestimate. Awareness and vigilance are important, panic, however, helps no one.