Student Steals Developer’s Code, Then Asks Him to Help With the Cover-up

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Indie game designer Eddie Lee found a very strange request in his inbox Tuesday night: Could he please take down some code he’d posted five years ago? It’s not that there was any problem with the code, it was just that the emailer had copied it for a class project and didn’t want his teacher to find out.

The work in question was a particle system based on the Navier-Stokes fluid dynamics equations, which are typically used in modeling things like ocean currents and weather systems. Lee demonstrated his code with a video applying wind forces to 40,000 different particles.

It was impressive enough that one student decided to copy it verbatim, and claim it as his own. But after turning the project in, he started to have second thoughts (or fears that he might get in trouble). So he sent Lee a desperate email — not to apologize, but to beg Lee to help him with the cover-up.

“I loved your Navier Stokes Equations so much that I copied it word for word, variable for variable, and presented it to my teacher for my final semester project,” the code-plagiarist confessed via email.

“However, my teacher is a smart man and he had previously caught a guy who copied code from the Internet. Could you please remove your Navier Stokes Equations program from the site for a week?”

As if that wasn’t audacious enough, he ended the request with “thanks in advance.”

On Tuesday night, Lee tweeted, “I just got this ridiculous email. What to do?”

Not take down the code to help a cheater, obviously. It’s still up as of Wednesday morning. But there are other possibilities, like ratting the kid out to his teacher. Lee hasn’t mentioned on Twitter whether he’s considering that, and he didn’t return a request for comment.

Assuming this tale of woe is real, the interesting  part is that the student might actually get away with it. Fluid dynamics and particle systems are such an important part of games, and the Navier Stokes equations are such an important concept in fluid dynamics, that Lee’s project doesn’t come up near the top of the Google results.

And the code is in a zip file on Lee’s website, not on a searchable hosting service like GitHub, so even searching for snippets from the code itself doesn’t seem to turn it up.

But maybe the teacher, “a smart man,” has more sophisticated ways of rooting out plagiarism.

Update 12/10: Eddie Lee told us via email that he responded to the student, asking him why he did what he did. The student wrote back, "I borrowed your Navier Stokes Code. I’ll just show it to him tomorrow and I’ll be done with Computer Graphhics. Computer Graphics was never up my alley. I hate it. I plan to pursue an acting career. However if he fails me I’ll have to study CG for another semester."

When that didn’t result in Lee taking his code down, the student attempted to trick him again with a fake email from a nonexistent professor.

"I penalized a student day before yesterday and I penalized one more today. Later they confessed that they were copying codes from your website," the fake professor wrote, "Could you please remove the code section from your programs lest my students illegally use your codes all over again ?"

Lee was not fooled.