As freelance writers, we spend a great deal of time quickly researching topics we’re unfamiliar with and then producing articulate web content that makes it sound like you know what you’re talking about. A brief scan of several other informative websites often gives you background information and inspiration to write what your clients have asked for. You wind up putting together and submitting an article to your client and begin the process over again with a new topic and don’t think about it again. [Read more…]
According to the Center of Academic Integrity, almost 80% of college admitted to cheating at least once, while a study by the Psychological Record reveals that 36% of undergrads admitted to plagiarism.
Most of the statistics about plagiarism that is available relate to cheating in the academic realm, but as freelance writers, we know very well how prevalent and serious the issue of copying another’s work is.
Heck, these days, even speeches are being plagiarized! You know what I’m talking about. *Wink* *Wink*
On our part, we cannot take the issue lightly, especially if we’re doing client work. You might even have plagiarized someone else’s work (unwittingly or otherwise), or your work may have been used by others. [Read more…]
Having worked online for almost a decade, I do believe that there is such a thing as accidentally plagiarizing. After all, how many times and/or ways can a subject be written about? At some point, an online writer might find himself writing the same words and ideas that he has read somewhere else – without the intention of copying. But, the road to hell is paved with
adverbs good intentions, right?
Then there’s the other side of the coin – other people copying your content. You may think that it won’t happen to you, but believe me, there are so many unscrupulous people out there who would go so low just to make a quick buck. Some may not care about other people copying their work, but I think that if it does happen to you, you just might not like it.
So how do you fight plagiarism – from both sides? Here are three “easy” ways to do so.
List down all your sources/inspiration for every piece you write.
Some of you may already have this habit – good for you! It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your idea is 100 percent original, but we know that we get our inspiration from all sorts of places. For special pieces of content, especially, research is required, and the best way to ensure that you do not end up plagiarizing your sources is that you carefully take note of all of them and cite them in your work.
This is a very basic concept, but also very easily overlooked.
Use plagiarism checkers.
Once you’re done with your work, you can use anti-plagiarism software. There’s a host of them available, some for free, some for a fee. Obviously, the results that you will get will differ depending on the service and whether it is free or not. You can also try contentplagiarismchecker.com, which gives you one free check upon registration.
Whether you’re checking if your work is totally original or you’re checking if someone else has copied your content, these tools will give you a starting point to fight plagiarism.
This is by far the most important thing, as far as I am concerned. Sure, there may be occasional slips – everyone has them, even seasoned journalists. At the end of the day, however, if you are true to yourself and take pride in your work, creating original content is in your blood. You will not have to worry (for the most part) that you copy other people’s work simply because that is not you.
How do you fight plagiarism? Do you have experiences that you want to share?
Freelance writers run the risk of having their content used without permission or compensation. While it can be risky working as a freelance writer, if you’re aware of the possible pitfalls, you have much better chance of preventing plagiarism of your writing. Take a look at these suggestions for protecting your work:
Trust Your Gut
If you are contacted by a new client and they ask you to submit content without a contract, it’s a good idea to tread lightly. Sometimes freelance writers have to take risks to get work, but giving your work away for free shouldn’t be one of them.
I have met several freelance writers who submitted samples of their work for a job opening only to find their samples published without being compensated. If you do send a writing sample, send content that has already been published elsewhere. Be clear with the client that the sample is already published, but provides an example of your writing. If the client continues to push you for a new sample without an agreement about compensation, trust your gut and do what you think is right for the situation.
Secure a Contract
A few clients may want to work with you in the short term or just for one project, but be careful about writing anything without a contract. There’s nothing wrong with requesting a written agreement that states the client will not use your content without paying for it.
If a client insists on hiring you without an agreement in place, share your concerns. Get as much information as you can in an email about use of your content so you have documentation in case they publish your work without payment and you have to go after them for compensation.
If you give up ownership of your writing after it has been submitted, make sure you understand the ramifications of this decision. If you have a byline, determine if you will be able to retain that byline once you stop working for the client. The last thing you want to do is write hundreds of articles only to find your byline has been stripped from your work once you part ways with the client.
Few things are more frustrating as a freelance writer than pouring yourself into an article only to discover your words have been warped by a heavy-handed editor. Ensure an editor can’t drastically reword your content so the meaning of what you originally wrote is lost. Ask to be in charge of major revisions to your work and have a last say on final edits. If the writing is in your name, you don’t want a poor or inexperienced editor to make you look like a bad writer.
The main way to keep your work from being plagiarized is to keep a copy of everything you write. When submitting content to new or potential clients, cc yourself on the email for your records. It’s a good idea to purchase a subscription to Copyscape, an online plagiarism detection tool that searches the Internet for similar text published on the web.
Have you ever had your writing stolen or misused; if so, how did you handle it and what would you recommend to your fellow freelance writers?
Sarah is the Content Manager and a Writer at Virtual Vocations, the one-stop shop for telecommuters looking for legit jobs. With several years of marketing and writing experience, Sarah managed a group of freelance writers for a marketing firm before venturing out into the telecommute world. Follow Sarah on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.
Ever since I started writing at Plagiarism Today and especially since I started this column, I’ve been hearing a lot from freelance writers who have been scammed or otherwise victimized by unscrupulous clients. Though the good news is that such bad clients are very rare in the big scheme of things, they are common enough that almost every freelancer, if they remain active long enough, will run into one or two over the course of their career.
So how do you avoid being taken advantage of as a freelance writer. As we discussed previously, clients have the playing field tilted to their advantage on most legal issues. As such, litigation isn’t often practical in these matters.
This means that the best way to protect yourself from these scams is to learn what they are and not step into them in the first place. [Read more…]
Turning in an assignment is the goal of pretty much every freelancer. It’s the moment where they can send their invoice, collect payment and, generally make a living. If you don’t reach this point regularly, you’ll likely soon find yourself looking for another career.
That being said, the moment you turn in your assignment is also something of a point of no return. Once you send the email, share the Google Doc or otherwise turn in what you have completed, you’ve not only submitted that work for revenue, you’ve also distributed it to a third party, an important step legally and it is generally the final step before the work is sent out to the much broader public.
As such, before you click “submit”, it’s worthwhile to take a moment, evaluate your work and make sure that you don’t find yourself in any legal trouble for your work.
After all, the last thing you want is for something you submit to come back and bite you and/or your client after it’s published online. With that in mind, here are five questions you should ask every time you get ready to submit a new article, just to make sure you’re on the right side of the law. [Read more…]
In an ideal universe, the law is there to protect both parties in a contract equally. The freelancer and the client would both have guards to prevent the other from doing something unscrupulous or somehow taking advantage of the other.
Of course, in an ideal universe, justice would be free, it would be immediate and it would never make any mistakes.
Unfortunately though, we don’t live in a perfect world and, in many regards, that legal playing field is very much tilted against the freelancer. Not only do clients, typically, have more money but the global nature of the Web and, at times, the laws themselves only serve to make things worse.
On that note though, here are just some of the grim realities that our imperfect system has created and what they mean for you as you try to earn a living selling your writing. [Read more…]
Having a pen name is one of the oldest traditions of being a writer. Even Homer, the famed author of the Illiad, is more of a mythical figure than a real person.
Writer’s select pen names for a variety of reasons. Some feel their “real” lives might be harmed if it is known what they write, others just think a new name sounds better and still others want to try two different writing styles or subjects without interference from past works. In fact, even publishers can demand an author use a pen name, as was the case with J.K. Rowling.
But while there are many good reasons to select a pen name for your writing, being anonymous or pseudonymous comes with a set of legal risks that one has to consider and be aware of.
Simply put, both the law and society in general treats anonymous works differently and it’s important to at least be aware of the problems and challenges an anonymous author will face. [Read more…]
Every freelance writer should have a good online portfolio, a place to showcase their best works and examples of the kinds of writing that they do.
However, creating a portfolio is not as simple as choosing the best writing that you’ve done for your clients and putting up copies or even snippets on your site. Not only might this be considered bad form on the part of your clients, but there may be legal issues that prevent you being able to do so.
So as many of us begin to look toward the new year and seek out ways to revamp our businesses for 2011, it’s important that we do so with care and respect.
Simply put, the best portfolio in the world won’t do any good if it’s been taken offline for copyright or other legal violations. So it’s worth taking a few moments to understand our legal obligations when assembling our portfolios and how we can best stay out of trouble. [Read more…]
If you’re a freelance writers, there’s a very good chance that you’ve been following the Cooks Source case for the last week or two.
To recap what happened, Monica Gaudio, a freelance writer, discovered that an article she had written on the history of apple pies had been used in its entirety by a small New England magazine entitled Cooks Source. Though the use was attributed, making it a copyright infringement and not a plagiarism, she was understandably upset and sought an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.
The editor of Cooks Source, Judith Griggs, responded saying that everything on the Web was “public domain”, a gross inaccuracy, and said that Monica should pay them as the work required a great deal of editing. Gaudio posted a snippet of that email along with the story to her site and the story proceeded to take off and become a major Internet sensation.
Cooks Source had their Facebook page attacked with thousands of angry comments and the mainstream media began to pick up the story and countless stories were written about it. Some began to search through the rest of Cooks Source’s archives and found over 100 other cases of potential lifting.
Eventually Cooks Source met Gaudio’s demands and made the donation after a somewhat controversial apology. But despite finally admitting that they were wrong, they still decided to shut down.
While this is a pretty big victory for Gaudio (not to mention freelance writers in general) there’s still a lot of lessons here to be gleaned from this case and things to be learned from it.
Though there’s more than could ever be covered in just one post, here are five of the more important lessons to pick up from the whole Cooks Source debacle.
1. Register Your Works
If this case had been forced to go to court, Gaudio would have found herself with an extreme uphill battle trying to claim any significant damages from Cooks Source. Since the work, most likely, wasn’t registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, Gaudio would not have been able to sue until she had first received her registration and, after getting it, would have been limited to actual damages.
With no attorney fees, no statutory damages, a lawsuit would have been completely impractical, even for this level of commercial use.
2. The Power of Crowds
Since Gaudio didn’t have a legal recourse, she turned to the Web and to the mob and proved that getting a crowd to support you can be a very powerful thing and is possible, even for lesser-known creators.
This isn’t to say that it works every time, I know dozens, if not hundreds of authors in similar positions who were unable to muster this level of support despite trying.
In this case, the crowd was able to do what the legal system wouldn’t have been able to, force Cooks Source into doing the right thing. However, the case also raises serious questions about the danger of this method, considering that this could have just as easily been directed at a much less-deserving target.
3. It Was the Response, Not the Infringement
Speaking of the mob, though there was a great deal of disgust at the actual use of the article, such infringements are extremely common and, if Griggs had responded in a manner that was more rational, it is unlikely anyone else would have taken note.
It was Griggs’ response, not the infringement that brought the mob to Cooks Source’s door and eventually brought the magazine down. One simply can not expect this kind of rally for most cases of infringement where such a strong, stupid reaction is not received from the infringing party.
4. Copyright Ignorance Still Runs Strong
While on the topic of Griggs’ response, her mentality that everything on the Web is public domain and free of copyright restriction is, unfortunately, a fairly common one.
Though years of copyright lawsuits, news stories, settlements and other tales have done a lot to at least let people know of the existence of copyright, if not what the law actually says, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation to be found out there.
Sadly, as this case also shows, many of the people with misconceptions are people with great positions of trust that can cause large headaches for freelance writers. They aren’t just teens setting up social networking accounts, they’re editors, publishers and large webmasters as well.
In short, they are your clients. Always keep that in mind.
5. There’s Still Support for Copyright
Finally, even though it can seem to be a bleak time for content creators with rampant piracy, plagiarism and other content misuses, there’s still a very strong understanding that copyright is important and that there needs to be fairness in dealing with the works that others have created.
Though the attitudes as to where the lines are drawn may be shifting slowly, the basic principles of rewarding those who create valuable content are still broadly understood and unfairness is still attacked.
In short, it may be a scary time and the Web may be a scary place, but it isn’t quite the nightmare many make it out to be. There is a great opportunity for a bright future online.
In many ways, the Cooks Source case is very indicative of the climate for freelance authors online. People will, without much hesitation and often fueled by misunderstandings of copyright, will misuse your content without apology, but the broader Web understands that is not fair or correct.
In short, most people on the Web are good, fair and want to make sure that content, whether free or for sale, is treated appropriately. There are those who will misuse your work, but they are a minority and, in most cases, they can be easily dealt with.
Hopefully though, this case will cause people like Griggs to rethink their policies and make better decisions about how they use the content of others. That alone might be something worthwhile to come out of this very ugly incident.
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private. This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.