Disclosure: I am a former paid blogger for Turnitin, which is mentioned in this article.
Launched in 2004, CopyScape is one of the longest-running plagiarism detection services on the market. It’s also one of the few services to provide a limited, but still somewhat-useful free version of its tools.
However, it’s always been a bit of a unique beast. Where most plagiarism detection tools have targeted academic or publishing markets, CopyScape has made its living off targeting websites. This includes both helping websites vet the content that they have and spot suspected plagiarisms of their work.
This is evident from their marketing, which doesn’t even mention academic uses of the tool.
However, despite their odd niche, the company has done well for itself over its history, even taking top honors in a 2008 comparison of plagiarism detection services.
That said, CopyScape hasn’t seen a large number of user-facing improvements. In the most recent tests, CopyScape was criticized heavily for limited usability (in an academic setting) and was behind other, better-known providers such as PlagScan, Turnitin, Urkund and PlagAware in terms of coverage.
Despite that, CopyScape is generally regarded as being solid in the area of detection and is considered a good choice for many use cases, in particular where cost is a concern.
However, that list of use cases may be expanding as CopyScape has quietly added a new feature: The ability to check documents.
Introducing the New Feature
The new feature was quietly added to the site in recent weeks. Users of CopyScape’s paid Premium Search feature can now upload a PDF, DOC, DOCX, RTF or TXT file instead of just pasting the text or the URL.
The feature is not available on either CopyScape’s basic free search feature or in the batch search feature, which enables the checking of multiple pages at one time.
There are some limitations worth noting. Documents have to be machine-readable, so image-only PDFs won’t work and the document must be less than 2 MB, which is a tight file limit for some larger documents.
It’s also worth noting that the document check is not currently available in their API, meaning that those that build custom applications that use CopyScape can’t either. However, API users have long had the ability to extract the text themselves and perform their own text search.
The form also seems to work fairly simplistically. It extracts the text from the document and pastes it into the the above textbox. From there, it just performs a regular text search. This means all it is really doing is saving the user of the step of copying and pasting from the document themselves. This is marked step down from competitors that work directly with the document itself, often preserving the layout and structure as it performs the checks and provides results.
But as simple of a feature as it may be, it’s still the first time CopyScape has launched a feature that isn’t catered directly at webmasters hoping to check for copies of their work. Whether this is part of a larger push into a new market will remain to be seen, but it’s an unusual move from one of the internet’s longest running and most unusual plagiarism detection services.
To be clear, this change isn’t likely to win over teachers or publishers, at least not those that are the heaviest users of such tools. It’s very limited in both its uses and execution. It is far behind other competitors in this area.
Still, it may provide an alternative to people who need to check the occasional document. However, without batch support and an interface more fitting for such uses, the new audience is going to be limited.
What makes this remarkable is that CopyScape has been largely unchanging from the user perspective for most of its 16-year-run. A user of the site in 2005 would likely feel right at home with the service as it is today. As such, any change to CopyScape is a notable change.
That’s especially true if that change indicates an attempt to expand beyond its famous niche of helping webmasters track down copies of their content.
While this current move likely won’t spark any mass migration to CopyScape for academic use, it certainly makes the tool more useful and opens new use cases where it may be the best tool for the job.
It may not be a tectonic shift, but it’s still a shift many users will find very agreeable.