A Freelance Writing Jobs Reminder: You Own Your Samples

One of the regulars sent me this email today.

I came across a problem this morning.  You may want to post a warning especially for new writers.  The ad you have for pet writers is of concern.  An automated response is returned with details which seem innocuous enough: but after the signature is the following:

P.S. please do not copy and paste from internet. We will be checking
all samples with copyscape. We will own the copyright of your sample articles even if you don’t get hired.

They claim the copyright of any sample whether hired or not!  I can forward the entire email if you’d like.

Not too cool. Your samples are yours, especially if you’re not being paid for it. Don’t sign away all rights to your work unless you’re being adequately compensated. This person will be profiting from your work why shouldn’t you?

This kind of a scam makes me so angry. Can you imagine the nerve of this person to expect someone to write up samples especially for him, make accusations of plagiarism before you even start the job, tell you you’re not hired and take all the rights to your samples to boot?

Here’s the thing. A client should be able to tell by your existing samples whether or not you’re a good fit. If he wants you to write something specifically for him, he should pay you. If he wants any or all rights, he must pay you. If no rights were discussed or signed away, it should be assumed you still have ownership.

Never give away all the rights to your work. If you’re going to let someone have all rights, you should receive adequate compensation.



  1. says

    Sounds like a total joker. The moment a prospective client dares to mention copyscape before hiring me, I tell them “no thanks.” As far as I’m concerned, if they start the working relationship making any kind of assumption you even MIGHT plagiarize, then that person isn’t prepared to be working with a professional in the first place.

    I’m curious about that email though – they say don’t copy from the Internet (duh), but not that you can’t send previously-published clips from off-line (unless it’s in the part of the email not sent to you there). So they can say they own the copyright all they want, but if you’ve already sold it to another client (and had their permission to use it as a clip if you ghostwrote it / sold the full copyright), their say-so doesn’t mean a thing. If anyone does submit clips, I’d include your own terms in that email – that they’re entitled to the copyright when payment for the samples is made at $x per article, whether or not they hire you for the full gig.

  2. Asma says

    If a new client asks me to write a sample specifically and does not mention compensation for it, I thought it would be a good idea to post it on my website and send them the link. I thought that way they could not con me. You think thats a good thing to do.

  3. says

    While I understand what you’re saying, Jenn, about not working for someone who says “Copyscape!” before hiring you, the sad reality is that, for some editors, getting plagiarized material from first-time submitters is pretty common.

    We’ve had a fairly significant number of contributors to our magazine (C3 – Sri Lankan print – I’m assistant editor) submit plagiarized material, and while I’d like to think it’s just this part of the world, I don’t know that it is. We’ve even had to mention in our writers guidelines to not plagiarize, do not copy and paste material from elsewhere, to submit only your own work, and so on, and still we get plagiarized material.

    It’s frustrating.

  4. Pamela says

    I feel like a dinosaur. I have been a professional copywriter for twenty years and still hanging in there but I had not heard of Copyscape, so I will look it up immediately. I want to thank freelance writing gigs for providing me with several great jobs over the past fews years. The client I have been working with since June is a dream and will debut her new website in January. As far as this pet site or scam, how would a writer know if his or her article is used with compensation?

    Another poster I would like to ask about is Bellezza Magazine. I submitted two articles to them months ago, sent a follow up email and recieved a response that they were still considering articles. The have a website, but does not seem to be active. Any other writers submit with similar problem?

  5. says

    I’ve been seeing more and more of these – places that ask, not just for clips, but for a specially-written test piece just for them (or two pieces, or three!).

    I’m pretty much steering clear of them at this point. Even if they’re not ripping you off by taking the clips and using ’em, they’re ripping off my time.

    You also see sites now that are hiring folks to do rewriting – they give you existing pieces and you rewrite ’em to make them just different enough to avoid plagiarism charges, and for this you get $1 or $2 an article…

    Now, whenever I’m asked to submit a free sample, I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to go straight over to the rewrite-mill, where some guy in Bengal will change my words around just enough that I can’t cry foul.

    So yeah, avoid freebies. Life is too short.

  6. says

    I don’t know if this is some new trend, but in the past couple of weeks, I’ve stumbled on maybe three or four job postings that have requested original samples, and then stated how articles would be checked using copyscape to confirm originality. I applied to one job and I’ve been communicating with the editor, so it looks promising. But in this situation, I didn’t follow directions. Rather, I included a link to a published sample and I respectfully explained the reason in my cover letter.

  7. says

    I agree with Laurie about plagiarism. I was the managing editor for a well-known, print encyclopedia last year. We had professional writers and professors literally copy and pasting from online sources and press releases. One went so far as to plagiarize from Wikipedia.

    The compensation these writers received, was not extraordinary, in fact they receive an honorarium, but was a fair amount. I figured if you don’t like the price, you should never have agreed to the work and turn in half-a@$ content.

  8. Kristen says

    re: plagiarism
    One of my former editor-in-chiefs who retired and became a freelance writer submitted plagiarized materials to me (I stumbled onto the plagiarism through fact checking). He was an editor for 30+ years and my mentor!! I was so stunned. From then on, I constantly checked writers’ work and, unfortunately have found that plagiarism is rampant. (And is seen as much from seasoned writing professionals as from first-time writers!) Whenever I hire a new writer, I automatically tell them that I check for plagiarism. If needed, I review what plagiarism is (some doctors who have written for me really didn’t understand what it was.) I feel like it gets it out there, and is over with.
    So if a client mentions plagiarism, I don’t get ruffled because I have been there. And have been burned.

  9. says

    Can you imaging hiring a contractor to build you a new deck — and telling them they needed to build a piece of it for free before they would be considered for the contract. Not a chance. I believe that samples of your previous published work should be enough for any job application.

    I think ‘threatening’ copyscape and so on makes for a really bad way to start a relationship. Of course people get burned by plagiarism, and unethical writers are certainly available by the dozens.

    Why would you want to bring past negative experience forward and use it as a basis on which to start a new potential working relationship?

    I do expect that a client will check my references, use Copyscape and similar services after receiving a submission to ensure it is original work, but having a potential client tell me “I will check your work for plagiarism” is extremely insulting.

    On the other hand, when a client expresses that they are only looking for original (or first-rights) content, I’m all for it. It really suggests the same thing, but personally, I’m all about adding positive relationships and workflow to my day. A million times over, a better relationship is formed when it starts on a positive declaration as opposed to an insulting warning. :)

  10. Nish says

    That rings a lot of bells, Jeremy! I applied to a certain site the other day. They asked me to look up their news section and write a sample for them from a given list of topics!I did, and got an email from them that very day saying I’d been accepted as a writer, but I will need to wait a few weeks before they can get me a new contract.

    The next day I was going through their news section when I came across a new article with a similar heading posted in the name of some other author.I should say, it bore too much resemblance to my sample to shrug it off as a mere coincidence!Someone somewhere had earned a good dollar or two that day!

  11. Shell says

    I applied for something the other day too and received an automated response with specific guidelines and an attached sample to follow. There was no attached sample and the email stated they could only get back to those who sent in their own samples of work.

  12. says

    My policy is not to write sample material. I have samples on my website for that purpose.

    I’m also not certain, but saying in an email auto-response that anything emailed automatically assigns copyright is probably a bunch of hooey that wouldn’t stand up in court. Now, taking someone to court is probably not going to happen, but still.

    For example, if I write here that anyone who posts after me automatically assigns me copyright to their posts, does that make it so? No. An email footer is not a contract. Not that I’d bother emailing such jerks anyway.


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