In January we had an intriguing question from Kathy in Canada. Kathy wrote: "I have a question(s) about blogging for pay. When I write a blog article (for content for a website), can I rewrite another version and sell it again? How much does it have to change in order to qualify as a new version? Is this even ethical? If I sell the article/blog then what rights am I selling, i.e. can the employer then use it (or part of it) in print (hard copy) advertising? Hope you can help."
I've come across variations of this question before from many writers who are used to writing primarily for magazines. When you write an article for a magazine or for a website that is open to submissions, you generally sell the rights to that article. This could be first rights, electronic rights, reprint rights or all rights. (For guidance on rights check out our section on rights: http://writing-world.com/rights/index.shtml)
With first rights and reprints you can, after a period of time specified in the contract (or more often these days in the writers' guidelines on the website), re-sell your article to another market.
When you write content or copy for businesses, including blog posts, you are working as a 'writer for hire.' This means that the rights to the articles or blog posts belong to the company that hired you – not you.
So the short answer to Kathy's question is that you can't sell the content to another buyer – you don't own the rights. Once the company has paid you for your words, they own them and can do what they want with them. They can print them as advertorials, use them in brochures, on posters – whatever they want. They, (not you) can submit them as guest posts on other sites (providing the other site accepts previously published material). They can submit your work to article directories – they own the work – not you.
This is the downside of copywriting – you do the work, but you don't get the credit or the bylines!
As to re-writing the blog post to sell to another market – that can be done. However, we are talking about a substantial rewrite: taking the same theme, topic or news item and approaching it from a completely different angle so that you have a completely new blog post on the same theme.
If you tried to sell the same blog post or content to another company without changing a word, or by only changing some of your post, you will not be employed by either company for long. The first company would, quite rightly, accuse the second company of plagiarism, as the first company has the sole rights to the words. The second company will not be happy either; no-one wants the same content on their site or blog as on another site – Google severely penalises sites that do this. Both companies would drop you like a stone.
But with a bit of forethought and skill, you can write two blog posts on the same theme for two companies and it needn't take a lot of time.
When I blogged for two IT companies I would use press releases and industry news alerts as a way of finding new topics to write about. Of particular use were surveys on IT security or reports on major new trends. For one of my IT companies I would focus on one aspect of the report – using certain quotes or statistics from it and writing the blog with a specific focus relevant to that particular IT company. For the other, I would take a different focus, use different quotes and statistics from the same report to create a completely new blog post on the same theme. Both clients were happy, both had blog posts on the same theme, but the posts were totally unique.
When you get into the frame of mind of writing two articles or blog posts on the same theme, you can easily sort out which angle to take for each company and you get into the habit of looking at topics from 2 to 4 different angles to enable you to produce as many unique blog posts as you need to on that topic.
I'm sorry if this is not what you wanted to hear – but when you work as a copywriter – and any writer who writes content or blog posts for others is a copywriter - you are a writer for hire. You are expected to provide a unique service for your client, and for that you get paid. If your blog posts aren't earning you as much as you would like, then you need to consider writing more or moving into higher paid blog writing positions.
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