Society

How Copy-Paste Is Rewriting The Worst Tricks For Student Plagiarism

In this end-of-year exams and papers season, a new French study analyzes the evolution of cheating techniques in the past five years, in particular the widespread digital tool we all have come to know as "copy-paste."

Kids these days: no imagination whatsoever (avatar-1)
Kids these days: no imagination whatsoever (avatar-1)
Sanaa Nabi

PARIS - As the academic year draws to a close, it's time for end-of-year exams and papers. But what (and whom) are the teachers correcting finals and grade papers actually reading?

Techniques for cheating have changed drastically in the past few years. With the widespread use of digital tools in schools and universities, new methods are emerging that have helped make plagiarism both more widespread, and at the same time notably unimaginative.

In 2007, the Research and Superior Education Center at Lyon University (PRES) studied how students behave online, particularly in regards to plagiarism. Their findings led to the adoption of preventive actions in certain colleges. A more recent PRES study commissioned by Compilation.net (an online plagiarism-detector) compared results from 2007 and new research from 2012 to see how student behavior has evolved in the past five years. The goal was to observe a possible link between Internet usage and the spread of plagiarism, and to confront teachers' perspective on their students' behavior.

The study, which spanned 100 universities, polling 2,727 students and 224 teachers questioned, mainly addresses the use of "copy-paste." The results? In 2007, more than two out of three students admitted that a typical piece of homework contains over 25% of content simply copy-pasted from the Internet. Three out of four students estimate that more than one-quarter of their total homework contains at least one copy-pasted portion. In 2012, those numbers dropped significantly to only one out of ten and one out of five of the respective questions about prevalance of copy-pasted material in their homework.

Rewriting quotes

But are students really putting in more personal effort, or are they just less honest when asked about their methods? Teachers estimate that half of their students don't even bother to use quotations marks, and that three out of five students even rewrite the quotes they use in their work.

The Lyon PRES finished its study by distinguishing three different categories: schools, teachers and students. The first seem to have understood the importance of raising teacher awareness about plagiarism and the need to get the students to face the consequences of using copy-pasted content, using strong dissuassive methods like the implementation of serious sanctions.

With teachers, we see that work methods have changed since 2007: there has been a generalization of digital drop boxes to collect homework, with the obligation to turn in a paper version of the work in addition to a digital one. Over time, the awareness about plagiarism has grown. Attitudes have changed and teachers have integrated the phenomenon into their working habits: they try to be more creative in their assignments, have more oral exams, ask students to supply their work product.

The final category, students still have a certain number of bad habits, especially since their digital equipment is multiplying. Internet is still their favorite place for documentation and research, but despite a few methodological improvements, they are less likely to admit to copy-pasting, since they have a better understanding of the risks and penalties.

Read more from Le Nouvel Obs in French.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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