Universities Fight Term Paper Websites With Fire

A university lawsuit against Internet-based sellers of term papers once again raises a question that is cropping up across the net: Are World Wide Web-based businesses subject to the laws of every country, state and town where surfers connect?

“The courts are wrestling with this jurisdictional issue,” said Stuart Smith, a partner at Gordon & Glickson, a law firm in Chicago. “Several cases have come down on opposite sides.”

Term papers and free speech?

Boston University last week in federal court sued eight sites that provide the term papers, charging them with violating a law banning the sale of such papers in Massachusetts as well as federal antifraud statutes.

“We will take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the integrity of the academic process,” university President Jon Westling said in a statement announcing the suit.

The university seeks an injunction against the companies, all located outside Massachusetts, and punitive damages.

Some fear a successful suit could allow a state to stifle someone’s First Amendment right to publish and sell on the Internet. “Somebody should be able to write papers on subjects that are good enough [that someone else] might find them of value,” Smith said. “They should be allowed to say it or publish it and sell it.”

One site being sued, Paperz.com, responded to the legal action: “Universities … have now come to stand for the restriction, if not elimination, of the publication of research done by member students.”

Boston University spokesman Kevin Carleton said those papers aren’t protected academic expression but are solely aimed at passing for a student’s own work. “The claim that these are research material is bogus,” he said.

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