A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Boston University (BU) against five term paper companies operating on the internet. The dismissal marks a setback for educators hoping to restrict the sale of term papers to students online.
U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris ruled Dec. 7 that federal court was the wrong place for BU to challenge the practice of selling term papers to Massachusetts students and that federal anti-racketeering statutes do not apply. The practice is illegal under Massachusetts law.
Bob Smith, general counsel for BU, said the university plans to take its case to state court as soon as he can get the paperwork ready. He cautioned opposing counsel Harvey Schwartz against getting too excited about his recent win.
“While this is a, quote, ‘win’ for his client, the fact is that at the end of the day they will still be in court with BU facing very serious claims,” Smith said.
According to Smith, 17 states–including Massachusetts–have made it illegal to sell research material knowing or having reason to believe that it will be submitted for academic credit.
BU sued eight companies last year after a law student posing as an undergraduate bought a number of papers over the internet for from $10 to $25 per page.
One even came back with the student’s name and the date preprinted on the cover sheet, all set to be turned in.
One of the companies named in the suit, a N.J.-based firm called The Paper Store Enterprises, turned over a list of seven BU students who bought papers there and a university investigation found that one of the students tried to pass the work off as his own.
The other buyers apparently used the papers properly, as research material.
Because BU found just one student plagiarist, the federal court ruled there was no way the university could possibly prove its claim of $75,000 in losses from each company–the amount necessary to qualify the case as a federal matter.
Two of the companies BU originally sued have settled, paying damages and promising not to sell papers to BU students in the future. Two other firms closed their web sites and have not responded to the lawsuit.
According to the Associated Press, the remaining firms are ASM Communications Inc. (doing business on the internet as A-1 Term Paper), The Paper Store, Research Assistance, and Paper Sure (formerly known as Paper Shack).
First Amendment issues
Schwartz, the lawyer representing A-1 and The Paper Store, said company officials were happy to win, but disappointed the victory came on technicalities.
“These cases come up every few years,” he said, “and at some point [the issue is] going to have to be addressed on First Amendment grounds.”
Schwartz maintains his clients’ ability to sell term papers over the internet is protected by their First Amendment right to free speech. “What next?” he said. “Schools will go after Cliff’s Notes.”
Andrew Greenstein, a research assistant for The Paper Store Enterprises, agreed. Despite laws in 17 states banning the sale of papers, no term paper company has yet been prosecuted successfully, Greenstein said.
The Paper Store Enterprises