In the era of outsourcing, it’s no surprise that online essay mills seek cheap labor from former academic hotshots.
These sites promise fair compensation to those who can swallow the notion of selling their old research papers and literature reviews. Like most things that seem too good to be true, they neglect to advertise the fine print:
This practice is illegal in more than a dozen states.
Stories of university honor codes punishing cheaters and judges hammering copyright infringers are relatively common. The notion of punishing students who try to profit from past work is harder to grasp.
I recently stumbled across a folder of my college term papers in my filing cabinet and felt frustrated that the products of my heavily caffeinated, sleepless college nights were now collecting dust. I knew that selling these papers wasn’t a viable option for me; it would compromise my own moral compass. Still, I wondered – for a moment – what I could buy with the extra cash.
If you’re considering selling your old college papers online, proceed with caution before hitting the upload button. Below is a summary of laws that address this practice in university-heavy states:
- California: California Education Code Section 66400 penalizes the preparation or sale of term papers, thesis, or dissertations for compensation. Those who merely “type” or “assemble” a paper are exempt. The law is applicable when the preparer/seller knew or should have known that the recipient would submit the paper for academic credit. State residents or academic institutions “acting for the interest of itself, its students, or the general public” can file suit against offenders for “any relief as is necessary.”
- Florida: Section 877.17 of the 2011 Florida Statutes makes it a misdemeanor in the second degree to “sell, offer to sell, or advertise for sale” a “written, recorded, pictorial, artistic, or other assignment” to another for submission “unaltered to a substantial degree.” Second degree misdemeanors in Florida are punishable by up to 60 days in jail. Editing and transcription services are exempt from criminal liability.
- Illinois: The Academic Plagiarism Act in the Illinois Compiled Statutes declares that “assisting or promoting plagiarism” is “against the public policy of the state. The Act authorizes campus executives to institute civil proceedings “to enjoin the sale, preparation for sale, advertising for sale, or offering for sale of any academic papers.”
- New York: Section 213-B of the New York Education Law criminalizes the unlawful sale of “a dissertation, thesis, term paper, essay, report or other written assignment” as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to three months. Local district attorneys or the state Attorney General can initiate investigations into this misconduct. Academic tutoring and counseling services are exempt from prosecution.
- Texas: Section 32.50 of the Texas Penal Code classifies the “deceptive preparation and marketing of academic product” as a fraud and Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500. Those merely offering counseling, tutoring, and transcription services have affirmative defenses under the Texas statute.
- Virginia: Section 18.2-505 of the Code of Virginia mirrors California’s law. Those who transcribe or assemble a paper for another are exempt, and the entity filing suit must prove that the preparer/seller knew or should have known that their work would be used as part of an academic fraud. Individuals and businesses alike in Virginia face civil injunctions, misdemeanor convictions, and fines of up to $1,000 if found guilty of this offense.
These states are not the only ones who punish former students looking to make quick cash; Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington all have some variation of the above laws on the books.
While it may seem tempting, weigh the risks before you auction off your best work to the highest bidder. The $25 check you receive from the essay mill months later likely isn’t worth the high cost of attorney fees, court fines, or a few nights in jail.
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