The Dangers of Self-Plagiarism

It’s tempting to sell first rights to an article a couple of times — just changing the title and maybe a bit of the text. It used to be that no one would notice. But it isn’t ethical and it’s fairly easy to get caught.

Many editors run any articles they get through any of a number of plagiarism checkers as a matter of course. It cuts down on their liability and they can catch problems very quickly. Depending on the contract they hold with their writers, editors can do all sorts of nasty things if they find a writer has committed plagiarism, and if they were contracted for first rights of some variety, all sorts of hell can be let loose.

Even worse is the damage to a writer’s reputation. No writer wants an editor to comment negatively when his or her name comes up, but it’s guaranteed to happen in a situation like this. Heck, this is the sort of story an editor might bring up at lunch with other editors, creating a sort of informal blacklist.

So, how can a writer reuse articles and information without getting into hot water?

  • Reprints — Depending on the original publisher’s contract, you can often sell reprint rights and continue making money off of the same article over and over again.
  • Rewriting — You can write about the same information over and over again, as long as you write it differently each time. This can actual help you to gain a reputation as an expert on a given subject.
  • Portfolio — Use these pieces to emphasize your skill as a writer. Slap them into a portfolio and show them off.
  • Awards — There are awards for published travel pieces, business writing and everything else under the sun. Why not enter your excellent pieces to contests and see if you can win some prize money?

It’s all about reusing your work without infringing on rights you’ve already sold, as well as a few ethical considerations. It’s just not the right thing to do.