It’s happened twice in the past 12 months, a client has come to me and asked for a rewrite of content written by someone else. The first time it occurred, the would be client blatantly asked for a complete rewrite of someone’s website, page by page. I honestly don’t know if she understood the legal issues around what she was asking but I certainly wasn’t going to touch it with a ten foot pole.
This week a client was a bit more sneaky about the rewrite issue and said he’d be sending us “source content” to write our piece from. Great, I gave him a discount because it saves research time. He included his “source content” into an email. Okey dokey…everything looks good so far. However, after a quick bit of research it turns out he simply cut and pasted someone’s article into the email. Not cool.
So for all of you writers and would be writers, here’s a little lowdown on how to avoid copyright infringement.
Rule #1 Don’t rewrite anything someone asks you to unless they wrote it themselves and/or own the rights to it. If they own the rights to it then you can rewrite it 100 times if that’s what they want.
You cannot rewrite someone’s content and just give it a new name. In the case of the client this week, he wanted an article on “7 Lies…..” and the source content’s title was “7 Myths….. “. You cannot write “Larry Snotter and the Wizard’s Rock” and not be sued by J.K. Rowling for copyright infringement. Wait, I take that back. You can try, but you better have a good lawyer and a hefty savings to pay for all your legal fees.
Yes the internet is HUGE and what are the odds someone is going to find your rewritten article and notice that it’s the same concept and almost the same title as theirs? Pretty slim, but why would you take the chance? And if you’re a writer, I don’t know what type of contract or agreement you have in place with your clients but I suspect they might have some recourse, even if they asked and paid you to do it. And we haven’t even begun to talk about integrity.
Rule #2 Back it up. If you’re using data, quotes, or citing specific information in the content you’re writing, source it. If the client doesn’t want it sourced, keep a list of sources for the article in your personal files. That way, if anyone ever comes to you and accuses you of something, you have the information to back you up. That includes any interviews you do. Keep track of who said what and keep it for 5-7 years. Most magazines require you to do this anyway, but it’s a good habit to maintain with all your writing work.
Rule #3 The rule of threes. When writing an article on say, sail boating at night, pull your data and information from at least three sources. This is a good way to avoid any type of copyright issues but also to make sure you’re writing an accurate article – one source may be inaccurate or out of date, three makes sure you’re safe.
Copyright laws are often misunderstood by writers and by clients. However, you are responsible for your own actions. It’s like the police officer says when you tell him you didn’t know the speed limit was 25, and you were going 50. “Too bad. Ignorance is no defense.”
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Posted under Articles and Tips
This post was written by Annette Elton on June 27, 2009