When Katherine E. Jackson ’04 graduated from high school, a friend advised her to create a web page. “If people ask me what I did in high school,” she says, “I can just say ‘look at my website.’” Forty hours later, after many trials with a program called “Sitebuilder,” Kate launched her project last April. Its name? “Kate’s Website: The Realm of a Goddess.”
Besides listing her favorite songs and displaying family pictures, Kate provides visitors with continuously updated news about her life. “It’s so that friends who haven’t talked to me in awhile can check in and see what I’m up to,” she explains. Kate also uploaded copies of original oratories she wrote and competed with in National Forensic League speech competitions throughout high school. “Since these pieces were published, I don’t worry about plagiarism,” she says. “I often get e-mail requests from people asking to use them in competition in certain categories where you’re allowed to use other people’s speeches.”
Jackson’s attitude toward plagiarism took a sharp turn last week. While searching for information for another class, Kate stumbled across a speech she had written and published two years earlier. “My speech turned up published in the Spring 2001 edition of The Auburn Circle literary magazine,” she says, “written by a girl named Jessica Fritz-Jenkins. Yes, that’s right. This girl took my speech word-for-word off the Internet.” Fritz-Jenkins could not be reached for comment. This discovery inspired Jackson to search for her speech on the Web. To her dismay, it also appeared again on www.megaessays.com. This time it was for sale.
Jackson’s speech, entitled “Bring on the Cheesecake,” examines society’s conception of beauty and was well-received at the 1999 National Forensic League national tournament. Despite the speech’s caliber, Jackson never suspected it would be pirated. “Maybe it sounds naïve,” she says, “but it never crossed my mind that someone would have the gall to do this.”
Jackson immediately contacted Justin Smith, editor-in-chief of The Plainsman, Auburn University’s weekly newspaper. Smith, a Managerial Information Systems major, began a manhunt to locate Fritz-Jenkins. After investigating in the university’s journalism department, Smith learned that the alleged speech-thief had graduated last spring and moved to Birmingham. “She took a course on feature writing and submitted ‘Bring On the Cheesecake’ to the class,” Smith says. According to Smith, the professor of the class suggested Fritz-Jenkins submit the stolen work to the school’s unsuspecting literary magazine.
Ali Heck, president of The Auburn Circle, says she was shocked to learn about the allegations. “We operate under the assumption people will be honest in submitting their work,” she says. Heck says the magazine has already made plans to run a retraction apologizing to Jackson and is implementing plans to prevent such an incident from occurring again. “We’re also looking at a disclaimer that will be published in each edition of The Circle. It would assume the honesty of the contributors,” she told The Plainsman in an interview. “Hopefully, it will deter students from submitting plagiarized work.”
Jackson says she is considering legal action to reclaim any profit that online essay-sellers may have made. “I never intended to sell my work and I don’t plan to make any money off of it. However, since money has been made off of my work, that money should go to me.”
She says that while she ultimately holds Fritz-Jenkins responsible, she feels the Internet’s anonymity encouraged the alleged plagiarism.
But the story doesn’t end there. Jackson says that her younger sister, while competing this past weekend at the Ohio state forensic tournament in original oratory, caught another girl trying to pass Jackson’s work off as her own. “What is wrong with people?” Jackson wonders. “This really makes me contemplate taking that speech off the Web—I already put a harsh disclaimer and a copyright on it.” Still, Jackson feels torn between the piracy of the Internet and her purpose in writing the speech in the first place. “I feel it is important that I share the message of the speech,” she says. “I’m going to have to think about it more. While it bothers me a lot that it gets stolen so much, I get so many e-mails from people who love it and who do ask permission to use it in competition that I don’t want to take it down, because these people are genuinely touched by it.”