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In my class, we have project groups of 4 or 5 students. This period has everything to do with game development. The project is to build a XNA game for children at primary school.

Now, there is one group of students in my class, who snitched a game from the internet and are going to hand that in. I saw a Facebook post from one of the students about "their" game, and a fellow student found almost the exact same game on a Dutch game site.

What is according to you the right way of handling this -in my eyes, plagiarism? Should I inform the project teacher, to have them exposed to the exam committee?

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Related question on "informing" on classmates: How to handle someone propositioning me to collude/cheat with them on an assignment? –  ff524 Jun 10 at 20:14
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I removed the links, because we should not judge if there is plagiarism or not, that's the role of your teacher and/or of the committee. –  userxxxxx Jun 10 at 20:14
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Yes, you should report it to the lecturer or TA. If you feel uneasy "snitching", you could even create an anonymous email address to send the report from. But it's the right thing to do. –  Moriarty Jun 10 at 20:19
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I agree you should tell the TA/Instructor, but you have to confront your classmates first. This happened to me in grad school and I called my classmates on it and said, "I'm not putting my name on this assignment if you hand it in like this and if you do I'm going to tell the teacher what you did." They reworked the assignment. –  Dave Kaye Jun 10 at 20:34
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Stop being subtle. –  JeffE Jun 10 at 22:20

5 Answers 5

up vote 48 down vote accepted

Should I inform the project teacher, to have them exposed to the exam committee?

Yes. Tell the teacher exactly what you know: that there is a game that seems very similar to your classmates' project.

As a student, it's not your responsibility to decide what is and isn't plagiarism, or to decide who should be punished for dishonesty and who shouldn't, or to start a "movement" to let the cheaters know you're onto them. If you believe you have evidence of misconduct, report it and let the administration handle it from there.

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Recognize also that, depending on what the assignment was, creating a game that "looks like another game" may or may not be plagiarism. If implementation of the idea (writing code) is what counts, starting with something you found on the internet is not too bad - although you might want to attribute the source, if you know if. But if you were writing a chess game, would it be considered plagiarism? There are chess games on the internet… you may even have seen them. But you wouldn't quote all the chess playing sites you may have visited. So this advice is sound. Inform, but don't judge. –  Floris Jun 10 at 23:53
    
even if they copied ideas or code, that might not be a problem -- provided that they cite where the idea or code came from. It might be another kind of problem to copy/paste code, but, depending on what it is and how it is cited, it might not be plagarism. IMHO. –  Thufir Jun 11 at 4:26
    
If you wish to refrain from looking like a snitch, you can just tell the teacher about that cool game on that Dutch game site a few days before the deadline. This way you haven't really said anything compromising, but you've still done what has to be done. –  zovits Jun 11 at 8:35
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@zovits I'm inclined to agree with JeffE's comment to "stop being subtle." There is no guarantee the teacher will make the connection or even remember the Dutch game when he gets around to grading the project –  ff524 Jun 11 at 8:38

Teachers have the resources to check for plagiarism and would be able to check for such things. I would recommend checking the project through one of these resources and let them know if you could spot it, so can your teacher. Then, you protect your reputation and put the responsibility back on them. So that once your teacher spots it, you will have proof you let them know in advance how you felt about the submission.

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This isn't his group's project, all he has seen of it is a photo on Facebook - not something you can run through a plagiarism detector. –  ff524 Jun 11 at 5:14
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I know that there is software that claims to find plagiarism in natural language texts, but compiled software? Even if they have to hand in the sources, I'd guess that many such software would go so crazy on all these getters and setters as to render the result virtually useless. –  Raphael Jun 11 at 6:33
    
@Raphael if the source code is posted online, I generally find that googling a snippet is enough to find matches. Additionally, code style is very personal. Mixed code styles are very easily detected. The best anti-plagiarism measure for projects is small, incremental submissions, or better even, mandatory version control. –  tucuxi Jun 11 at 10:26

College is competitive enough without having to compete against cheaters lazy enough to represent an entire work that is freely available online as their own. Grading is often quite subjective, and your work should not be compared to work of those working outside your class's structure.

You don't need to give the information to the instructor with your name on it. You can leave an anonymous note to the professor (and give a copy to the department chair if you want to ensure they will at least investigate, because the temptation is to sweep it under the rug).

You need to be careful not to overstate your case. Just state that you believe they may be passing off that particular work as their own, point to the evidence, and let that stand and do not pursue the matter (unless you have hard evidence, the instructor and the department sweep it under the rug, and you feel the need to act further, but be careful because you may quickly become a target for political retribution yourself.)

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Mind your own business - it's not your problem.

If someone working in your group suggests or does plagiarism, or someone tries to plagiarize your work, or does something which could affect your mark or your academic record, go ahead and report them.

But you shouldn't get involved with this. It's not your job to police other students behaviour. It doesn't prevent you from learning, nor does it prevent you from getting the grade you deserve.

You are laying yourself open to unpleasantness and ill-feeling between you and your classmates. Other students who are honest, might resent you or feel that you will be surveilling them in future. You might end up with your own behavior being closely watched by classmates who are trying to get you in trouble. It is also possible that the information you have is wrong or that you have misinterpreted it. For someone who is innocent of cheating or who has been co-erced to be disciplined for plagiarism is a serious thing to have on your conscience. In some (rare) situations various forms of cheating are tacitly being tolerated by the teacher, and you will be seen by them as 'rocking the boat'.

In short, you have a lot to lose and very little to gain by reporting them.

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It's not clear to me how anyone but the teacher would know who the "snitch" is (unless he tells people, of course)? –  ff524 Jun 11 at 12:53
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@jwg I disagree. We have moral obligation to report wrong doings and discourage unfairness. If you see someone shoplifting would you not report it to police because it doesn't concern you? About possibility of misinterpretation, it is up to the authority, teachers in this case, to conduct fair and thorough investigation, it's not the student's fault if he is simply reporting suspicious behavior, doing of which should be encouraged. If the offending party was innocent, that's fine, no harm done, but if they are not, it would have been unfair to other hardworking students on other projects. –  Mobius Pizza Jun 11 at 13:12
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Mind your own business - it's not your problem. Oh but it is. What if a scholarship is involved and the plagiarizing group got better overall mark? They're studying game development. What if after graduation they get better job opportunities? –  profitehlolz Jun 11 at 14:39
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@ff524: I would not rely too much on the anonymity/pseudonymity of the user profile (arstechnica.com/security/2013/07/…) nor on the staff not (inadvertedly) exposing me (academia.stackexchange.com/questions/21401/…). –  cbeleites Jun 11 at 21:35
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I disagree with tying whether to take action or not to whether their grade affects yours (or other ways how it could possibly affect you directly). But I think the part " It doesn't prevent you from learning, nor does it prevent you from getting the grade you deserve." is most important. Likewise, I would not tie the action to whethe or how much you risk to have the classmates react unpleasantly - but all the more to the risk of false positives: harming someone who did not plagiarize. And yes, false accusations (also when given in best intentions) do cause harm. all in all +-0 –  cbeleites Jun 11 at 22:33

I agree with jwg. I don't intend to be rude, but I would call this squealing. It shouldn't be your stuff as it doesn't hold you from achieving what you want to achieve. Actually after the grading took place, if you detect that your grade has been dimished because of the 'exceptional' work of the other group, well then it is another situation. In this case you could still think about reporting the issue.

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What's so wrong about "squealing"? –  ff524 Jun 11 at 16:33
    
It's the ghetto "don't be a snitch" ethic. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Snitchin%27 –  Aaron Hall Jun 12 at 3:56
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In response to the use of the word "squealing" in a pejorative sense, I would draw your attention to the old phrase: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." –  Desty Jun 12 at 9:29

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