Do your students use Viper (scanmyessay.com) to check their essays? They should beware!

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Debora Weber-Wulff , Professor for Media and Computing at the HTW Berlin has carried out rigorous test on plagiarism detection software since 2004. She has very helpfully published the full report of the 2010 tests in English this year. The latest round of tests included a system that we have seen promoted to our students at Leicester, Viper (also known as scanmyessay.com). This requires local installation on a PC and purports to be as accurate at detection matches between student work and other sources as Turnitin.

Debora uses a set of test pieces, some of which are in German, but some in English, with sections copied from known sources, or plagiarised in different ways. Viper is listed as one of the poorest performing systems in terms of detection, scoring much lower than Turnitin (ranked 2 to Turnitin’s 20 on the overal scale). Doesn’t quite marry up with their marketing information:

Here is the English summary of Viper’s perfomance [original data English, German].

Viper installs a 1.5 MB client on a PC system. The hissing red snake logo is not very pleasant to look at. The system cannot deal with umlauts and produces a complicated online report and an unintelligible printed one. Writing to the company at the address given when we called on the phone bounces, the address is strangely the same as for a paper mill / essay writing service. We checked the street address – it is the same for both companies – and the telephone numbers, that only differ in the last digit. Reading through the “Terms and condition” we find that by submitting a paper to Viper we give the company “All Answers Limited” the right to keep a copy of the paper and may use it for marketing purposes, either for Viper or for any “associated website”. This proves what many have often suspected: some supposedly plagiarism detection services are just harvesters for paper mills. Even if this were not the case – Viper has the distinction of being the worst system for detecting plagiarism, coming in last with just 24% of the effectiveness points on all test cases.”

As Debora points out, the terms and conditions clearly state that essays will be used by All Answers, an essay writing service:

‘By using the Viper software you acknowledge that All Answers Limited will store a copy of all documents processed by the program and documents submitted by other users will be compared to such copies and you agree that any right you may have to remuneration for such use of documents to which you hold the copyright is waived.’ [my empahsis, full terms]

So students loose out whichever way they turn here – potentially giving away their work to be sold on to other students and then relying on plagiarism scanning tools instead of learning how to read, process information and demonstrate their understanding of it. The really unfortunate ones may buy an essay from All Answers, only to find that it was written by one of their peers and caught for collusion and plagairism all in one go 😦

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7 thoughts on “Do your students use Viper (scanmyessay.com) to check their essays? They should beware!”

  1. The term you have quoted here clearly states that the document will be stored so that other students can compare their documents with it. The other students do not have access to the document itself but where there is a plagiarised section in their document, this is highlighted.

    We need to do this to increase the accuracy of the scanner. This is exactly what turnitin do – and turnitin also waive any right the student has to get paid for the document being stored in the database.

    It’s interesting that you give Viper such a scathing rating but ignore the fact that it is at the moment completely free, produced to help students. It has been provided free for the past 5 years or so. Turnitin on the other hand costs universities many thousands of pounds (as does the student version of its service, writecheck). The student does not see a penny of that profit.

    Viper was indeed originally developed by the same company that offers an essay writing service – a CUSTOM essay writing service. All Answers do not have an essay bank and do not sell pre-written work to students. So the work submitted through Viper is not resold to other students at all. The reason All Answers developed this software was because they use plagiarism detection software in-house to check that the essays that writers create are actually original, custom pieces of work (again, emphasising that All Answers does not sell pre-written essays). It occurred to the company that students could really benefit from a scanner like this, which is often not available to them through their institution.

    1. Hi, it is my first year at Uni and I am actually quite scared of all this plagiarism issue. What I am trying to clear up is the fact that, even though I’ve checked my essay with Viper, when I will submit it through Turn it in, there will not be any problems, right? As in, it won’t say that the whole essay is plagiarized, just because Viper has stored a copy of it.

      Thanks.

      1. As the post says, I would not recommend using Viper. The best way to be sure that you haven’t plagiarised is to take careful notes, making sure you highlight anything you copy directly from an article or book so that you can be sure to reword it in your own words and add a citation to show where the idea came from when you write your assignment. Your university will have courses and other forms of student support through your library or student union for you to ask for help or training on how to cite references correctly.

        A useful online guide is available here:
        http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/study/plagiarism-tutorial

  2. I’m very glad to hear that there is clear water between All answers and scanmyessay and that students would not be resold work submitted for scanning.

  3. That means, viper is not at all safe???? I scanned like 2 copies yesterday and now viper owner’s can use them? Publish them? Take advantage of it??? Can give my essay/article to any student, in fact add it to their database??? What kind of help is this…..

    Which means I should immediately delete it. By the way, is there any good plagiarism software which can be used to scan my thesis? As I’ve tried like trillion of software on internet. But none seems to be effective.

    1. I would not use Viper. Turnitin has a service that you can pay for. The best idea is to make sure you take notes carefully and cite your sources.

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