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Erika Vidal

Property Rights
Supply and Demand of Monitoring Plagiarism in a Classroom
Webster Dictionary defines plagiarism as the act of plagiarizing; taking
someone's words or ideas as if they were your own. However, there is not a
standardized definition among schools of what exactly represents plagiarism,
since some think that if a student took the time to find out many different sources
of other peoples ideas and he had the creativity of putting them all together in a
very coherent way for a paper and while doing this the student learns, that
shouldnt be considered plagiarism but research. "When you steal from one
author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research (Izner, 1933)."
I agree completely that plagiarism is an ethical issue that arises most of the time
because of the laziness and lack of a creativity of a student. This dishonest
student is stealing somebody else ideas without giving the author credit for them.
I also agree that many times a student who plagiarizes gets an easier grade than
the other students that had to develop original ideas which is unfair to them, but
how much can/should a professor monitor or punish students who plagiarize?
The economic context of plagiarism is a very complex question because it is hard
to find equilibrium when different circumstances create different economic
models. For instance, what happens when there is actually an internal market
inside the schools with a determined supply or demand for plagiarism?
Something like a black market where there are students demanding for people
that allows them to use their work and also students that are willing to sell their
ideas knowing that their names wont appear in the papers. The marginal cost of
the author of not getting credit is paid by the plagiarist. Apparently no one gets
hurt. Is there equilibrium here?
In this situation it seems to me that how much time a professor should spend
trying to uncover the dishonest students is a direct function of how much the rest
of the students demand for this monitoring. For instance, if it is a class where
everybody has access to an A if their work is good, I think that the same
students can regulate and uncover the plagiarists when they are being affected
(for instance when one of their ideas is stolen). If the other students grade
cannot be affected by the ones stealing ideas and phrases, then the demand of
monitoring plagiarism will decrease. On the other hand, if it is a class where the
professor sets a grading scale where only a 10% of the class will get an A, a 30%
will get a B and the rest will get a C, the eminent competition for a grade will
cause an increase in the demand for monitoring and punishing plagiarism from
the same students. If one student by plagiarizing gets one of the As available this
automatically decreases the probability of the honest students to get an A in the
course, thus a professor must likely will be pushed by the class to invest more
time looking for cheaters.

Another circumstance that could affect the demand and supply of monitoring
plagiarism is the school prestige of the degree that is being earned. I would think
that a professor at a small community college where the degree is mainly
technical would have a more relaxed policy about plagiarism than a professor at
an expensive private university where degrees like Law or Medicine can be
obtained. Again, primarily I believe that are the same students who demand more
or less monitoring depending on their marginal cost or benefit involved by
monitoring and plagiarism penalties.
The difficulty of standardizing degrees of plagiarism and punishments also arises
from the criteria that professors apply to students in different circumstances. Let
me explain. There are some situations where even when there is some evidence
of plagiarism, a professor might not enforce a severe punishment for it. One
example could be a student that is about to graduate. If he submits a paper
where the professor finds out that there is some plagiarism, but that uncovering
this student might cause him not to obtain a degree or pass a thesis (really harm
him), and this happens to be a student who has been outstanding all his time in
school, I find very unlikely that a professor will turn him in. On the other hand if it
is the case of another student who also submits a paper with the same level of
plagiarism (lets say he omitted a couple of sources) and used another authors
phrase as his, but the difference is that this student is just in the middle of his
degree, then if uncovered, the worst that can happen is that he takes the course
again, then the professor might try to use the punishment as an early corrective
method of more severe forms of plagiarism in the future and then fail the student.
I dont think that is would be fair, but again most of the plagiarism situations
appear to be circumstantial which increases the difficulty of developing an
economic model for this. In order to be able to make an Economic model and find
the equilibrium for the demand and supply of plagiarism, we would need to make
many assumptions. Among others that all the students are treated equally
despite their degree of study, their university and the year they course. That the
professor is like the government that intervenes when the parties (students)
dont agree in the amount of plagiarism supplied and demanded. This means that
when the honest students are not harmed directly by the students that plagiarize,
and there is an optimum amount of plagiarism demanded and supplied, I dont
see why the professor should intervene by increasing monitoring.
On the other hand if there is competition among students for a certain grade and
the dishonest students that plagiarize can decrease the probability of the honest
students to get a good grade, then it will be the same students that make the
professor to increase the monitoring and punishment for plagiarism. In this case
the punishment of the professor should be higher than the marginal benefit that
the students can get by plagiarism, in order to prevent the students of doing it.