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What is the price of plagiarism?

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The Internet provides plenty of temptations for would-be plagiarists, from essay-writing services to millions of web pages. The easy availability of such resources can cloud judgment and lead to misuse or abuse of information. "On the part of students, there's an eerie logic to justify cheating," says Denise Pope, a lecturer at the School of Education at Stanford University and author. "It's three o'clock in the morning, you're exhausted, you've worked hard ... rather than getting a zero, you'd take your chances with plagiarism."

The problem is even more pronounced among honors students, who often believe they have the most to lose when it comes to grades, Ms. Pope says. "Students believe their parents would be less upset to find out they cheated if they get the A in the end," she says. "They sort of convince themselves that this is what needs to be done, even if it's wrong."

How wrong plagiarism is perceived to be, though, often depends on the immediate consequences. At Evanston Township High School near Chicago, students receive a copy of the school's plagiarism policy at the beginning of each school year. "If they plagiarize a whole paper, they get an F for the semester. If it's just a major portion, they get an F for the quarter," says Janet Irons, an aide in the English department. All the school's teachers are trained to use Internet plagiarism-detection services like Turnitin.com, which scans papers for similar passages online.

Professor McCabe says that even in high schools without such a protracted policy, F's or suspensions are often standard punishments for plagiarism. But almost half of the teachers he interviewed say they've observed cheating but have not reported it. "It often comes down to 'he said, she said' proof, and that isn't really enough," he explains.

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