- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Newspapers have a newfangled foil for the old problem of plagiarism. LexisNexis, the Internet-based information service, now offers CopyGuard, described by spokeswoman Elizabeth Rector as a “plagiarism detection solution.” It may not be an easy sell.

“The public expects the press to have credibility. If this service could enhance that, it might be helpful. Editors have to trust their reporters, so it would be a delicate balance. We don’t use the service, but if we did, I doubt we’d run every story through it,” said Rick Rodriguez, executive editor of the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

CopyGuard, which has been available to news organizations by monthly subscription since September, is meant to function like a picky editor with an extensive memory, using word-pattern-matching technology to compare a story’s content with about 6 billion documents on the LexisNexis database, plus archives from IParadigms, a California-based service that checks the authenticity of intellectual property for news, legal and corporate groups.

Using a “similarity index,” CopyGuard produces the exact percentage of suspect text that originated from an outside source within minutes, even underlining the offending passages.

The system was tested on a trial basis by the Baltimore Sun to filter six years’ worth of columns by Michael Olesker, who resigned in January after failing to attribute some of his sources.

“We tried twice. The first time, results were lacking,” said David Rosenthal, the Sun’s assistant managing editor for administration.

“LexisNexis tweaked it, and it worked better the next time. But I’m not sure about the service. It must be cost-effective, and it’s complicated. It’s not like using a spell-checker,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “It wouldn’t be practical to put a whole day’s copy through the system, though it might be useful, say, for checking the clips of a potential reporter.”

Two editors eventually examined Mr. Olesker’s columns the old-fashioned way: by reading and checking the columns themselves.

“The reading process, and being concise, is just as important. To really vet the content, a software product was just not going to do it alone. Maybe a combination of things is the answer,” said the Sun’s public editor, Paul Moore, who pored over the columns with City Editor Howard Libit.

The Baltimore City Paper ran its own test of CopyGuard on Mr. Olesker’s work with better results, even uncovering evidence that the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer’s Polly Paddock had lifted one of the columnist’s phrases without attribution in 2002.

LexisNexis and IParadigms have not announced the cost of CopyGuard or any information about its subscribers.

The academic realm, in the meantime, has used plagiarism-detecting software since the late 1980s to help curb student cheating. The Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program, for example, costs $300 and has been used by the U.S. Naval Academy, Pepperdine University and other institutions.

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