Folks in business of freelance writing for a living do more than just write. Sure, there are the interviews, filing, invoicing and other office tasks, but freelance writers also work hard on contract negotiations and copyright infringements. Sometimes these tasks seem to take up more time than the writing itself.

Here’s the thing: just because a story is posted on the Internet doesn’t mean it can be copied and reprinted someplace else.

It’s very simple.

What most people don’t realize is that before the last button was clicked and that story appeared on the World Wide Web, the writer and publisher likely went through a series of negotiations. And if they didn’t they should have. An agreement should have been reached for fair payment for the work.

If I sell a story that’s already been published someplace else, then it goes for less money. But if I write a story for one particular publication (called an “exclusive”) and that publication is the first one to print it, well, they pay a higher price. Additional payment is due if publications are doing hard copy only, putting it on their website, storing it in their archives, translating the piece or planning to use the article in some way in the future, like a book. Publications can use articles in a variety of ways and each time it’s used, the writer needs to be paid. After all, if it’s good enough to print, it’s good enough to pay for.

I’ve heard all of the arguments and all of the excuses. Top statements include how flattered I should be by the reprint, that they didn’t know they weren’t allowed to reuse an article without my permission or that if the article is on the World Wide Web, then it’s public property.

None of these hold any water. The Canadian Copyright Act is law. My work is protected from being republished without my permission. Flattery does not pay the bills. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Barbara Florio Graham, a freelance writer and media guru in the Ottawa area uses this brilliant analogy to explain reusing articles found on the web: I park my bike outside my house overnight, leaning it against the outside of the garage. You walk by and see it. You know it’s not yours, but you also know that I’m not using it at the moment, so you take it for a ride. You know you shouldn’t have taken in, but you do anyways. Overnight, you use my bike and then return it early the next morning.

I urge you not to take anything off of any website without the author’s permission or permission of the website operator. It’s not yours to take, even if you’re just going to use it for a little while.

I should have been doing labels and links for this post and all of that fancy stuff, but I don’t have the time right now. This is a subject I could go on for hours about, so I’m sure I’ll have the chance to do that kind of stuff on another day.


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