Poland Eyes IPR Reform To Combat Plagiarism In Scientific Theses

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The Polish Parliament is currently finalising work on a bill designed to make using anti-plagiarism software compulsory for Polish higher education institutions (HEIs). With the new law, universities are to become obliged to check all Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. theses to detect acts of plagiarism. However, local observers doubt whether the bill will provide Polish HEIs with sufficient means to counter this widespread problem and protect intellectual property.

The new obligation was included in Article 167a of the amended Higher Education Bill. The draft was submitted by the government to the Polish parliament, and it is expected to be voted in October 2014.

To date, Poland-based universities have not been legally required to ensure the defended theses were not plagiarised. Under the amended bill, they will become responsible for protecting intellectual property rights of scientific works.

Higher education institutions are “required to check written theses before their defence with the use of anti-plagiarism software which co-operate with the national database of theses,” the draft bill says [in Polish].

To provide local universities with tools to enforce the new regulation, the draft bill proposes to establish a national theses database, which is to include every MA and BA thesis defended at Polish HEIs.

Currently, local universities are not in possession of intellectual property rights for these works, which prevents them from storing the theses in a similar system. Students are required to provide statements on the compliance of their work with IP rights, but this does not prevent some of them from plagiarising others’ work.

According to data obtained by local news daily Dziennik Zachodni [in Polish], it is estimated that between 20 percent and 30 percent of defended theses could be plagiarised. According to data provided by Plagiat.pl, the country’s largest anti-plagiarism software provider, to local news site money.pl [in Polish], this figure could be in the range of 25 percent and 40 percent.

The new system is to store and cross-check all the works defended after 30 September 2009.

With Polish academicians increasingly exposed to standards used by western higher education institutions, plagiarism is visibly taken more seriously by Poland’s universities than several years ago. Furthermore, it is increasingly seen not only as a violation of the academic code of conduct or cheating, but as an IPR violation, as the country’s Science Ministry is aiming to present it.

As part of a noticeable trend, an increasing number of Polish students decide to buy theses online, often purchasing works which have already been used by other students. Their authors manage to make a living from selling plagiarised theses, with prices starting at PLN 20 (US$6.5) per page, according to daily Gazeta Wrocławska [in Polish].

Legislative works on the draft bill were launched in February 2014, and in their course, the IP aspect has become one of the key parts of the amended bill.

“The new regulations will allow to combat plagiarising theses and prosecuting researchers which violate the law in a more efficient way,” Poland’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education said in a statement [in Polish].

“Ethics in scientific research and teaching, standing against unjust behaviour and pathologies, and promoting good practices must be an effort made by the entire [scientific] community,” Minister of Science and Higher Education Lena Kolarska-Bobińska said [in Polish]. The amended bill “will allow us to act more effectively,” the minister said.

Sebastian Kawczyński, chief executive of Plagiat.pl, says [in Polish] that local politicians are building on the experiences of other Western countries.

“In the US and the UK … employing anti-plagiarism systems is an important part of academic procedures. These are not only used for theses, but also for most of the papers which are drafted by students. In some European countries, there is a legal obligation of checking theses with the use of anti-plagiarism software,” Kawczyński told local daily Rzeczpospolita in an interview [in Polish].

Currently, about 190 HEIs use the Plagiat.pl software.

This said, some of the draft bill’s critics say that it does not specify the minimum specifications for such software, and that HEIs will be free to award contracts for the provision of such services to companies under unclear terms. As a result, the used software could be inefficient or provided at an exaggerated cost, and would not contribute to in-creased IPR protection.

“On the other hand, bad regulations could contribute to decreasing the level of anti-plagiarism control at national level. The bill’s articles regarding anti-plagiarism control do not include any criteria on the technical terms for anti-plagiarism systems,” Kawczyński said [in Polish].

Jaroslaw Adamowski may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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