28 April 2008

The morality of paid freelance writing

It's perfectly legal to take someone else's written work, rewrite the same content in the same order in your own words, then publish it with your name on it instead of theirs, all without telling them.

It would be right to first ask the original author for permission to use their work, then when they refuse, to keep them informed on what you do with their work, and mention their name somewhere in your version of their work.

It feels less wrong when, in the process of rewriting someone else's work, you begin to suspect that the original author is as fake as you are.

It feels completely wrong on all fronts when you begin to wonder whether the person paying you to do it is trying to circumvent copyrights as you initially thought, whether they also paid the original author, or whether a rival of your employer paid the original author.

The moral to be learned: there are a lot of opinions on the internet that should not be trusted, because someone paid the writers to have them.


Shawn Powers said...

Therein lies one advantage of actual freelance work: The ability to say no. Hopefully, you were able to exercise that freedom.

BTW: I always love me an MWT cryptic post. :D

Eric said...

I'm curious as to the context that brings this up, because you might be right in context. But in general terms, the legality of rewriting someone else's content in your own words varies. (Try publishing a book called The Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and it will only be a matter of time before you begin getting nasty letters from J.K. Rowling's lawyers.)

As for paid opinions: who paid somebody is certainly a factor in judging their credibility, but I'm sure you don't mean to suggest it's the only factor. I get paid by my home State to have opinions about legal matters; some of my clients' friends in the local jail, on the other hand, give legal advice for free; I'd like to think I'm more consistently reliable than the "jailhouse lawyers." Similar things could be said about paid professionals in medicine, science, academe, etc.

More fundamentally: if your post refers to some way in which you got screwed (it sounds like it), you have my condolences and support (for whatever it's worth), and I hope the bastards get what they deserve.

MWT said...

Oh, I got paid what I asked for on the rewrites. I just have (or had, at least, when I first started) a sneaking suspicion that someone else got screwed. It looked like I was doing something similar to taking someone else's blog posts and rewriting them to post on my own blog (except with actual money involved).

By the time I found out what I was rewriting, I'd already committed to the job. Then as I was reading over the other guy's articles, I started wondering if he was a plant.

Basically, the articles were about some online services. They weren't advertisements per se, but all of the articles pointed to the same websites. I suspect the intention is to make them look like normal regular people talking about good experiences with said online services, in a word-of-mouth type of thing. So I'm not talking about being paid to have opinions, I'm talking about being paid to have an opinion specified by the person paying. (Which I guess also happens in the legal profession ... but this wasn't in the legal profession.)

Oh well. So went my first foray into freelancing. It was basically a proof-of-concept endeavor. I found out that I can indeed write things to spec and turn them in on time, so I'm good to go delving further into it as a potential income source.

Michelle K said...

We interrupt this blog post to bring you the news that Nathan has not hijacked a comment thread in a significant time.

As he is unable to perform his duties adequately at this time, this comment has been added as a public service.

Ahem... Er... Domino's Pizza!

Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled commenting.