Have you rewritten an article, only to receive flack from the allegedly original author for “copying” his story, and maybe you’ve then wondered if you’ve committed plagiarism?
Copyscape has the last word.
Another duplicate-content detection site is Plagium. If your article passes, you’re clear. End of story. Let the supposedly original authors beef, because they have a right to, but they can’t do anything more than that.
As a professional writer, I have had gigs in which my clients supplied me with links to articles, and my job was to “rewrite” or “summarize” them. For some clients, the word total of the rewrite had to be about equal with the original story. For others the rewrite had to be shorter, and there’s been some instances in which the rewrite had to be longer than the original — I had to “pad” the rewrite.
All of this is perfectly legal, as long as the rewritten content is far-enough removed from the original that it passes Copyscape or Plagium.
However, this doesn’t mean that sooner or later you won’t get flack from the original author. There’s a range of sensitive people out there. Some authors think they own a topic, and if someone else dares write about it, that someone else either “copied” their article or stole the idea!
Sometimes, a sensitive author will think the rewritten version should credit him or her. It’s actually kind of you to do that if 1) The topic is really, really unusual, and 2) Your narrative is very similar to the narrative of the original author.
But a skilled writer will make sure that the rewrite, though on the same topic, has a very different style. For instance, perhaps the original has a dry, textbook-like style, and the rewrite or summarization has a witty, more creative or engaging style.
Remember, nobody owns a topic.
I once wrote an article for a fitness magazine on burst training: intense action (like squat jumps or burpees) for 60 seconds, scattered throughout the day eight times.
I then heard from another fitness expert, accusing me of “copying” HIS article on burst training that had appeared in a different magazine a few months prior. His writing style is different from mine. How could I have copied his article?
Did I copy his material because we both included squat jumps, switch jumps, box jumps and burpees in our articles? Of course NOT! Most fitness experts will tell you that these four exercises are probably tops for burst training! So of course most articles on burst training will list these four exercises!
The Web is chockfull of rewritten content. In fact, if you want to see scads of rewritten articles, look no further than any site that posts breaking world, national, sports and celebrity news. This stuff gets rewritten by the minute.
Michael Jackson’s death is a classic case of massive rewrites. The first writer to post an article on a particular topic on the Web does NOT own that topic. Just imagine the quantity of rewrites for the Cleveland kidnapping case, the Flight 370 case and the Boston bombings.
There’s what, 80 trillion articles online today? What percentage are rewrites? Certainly, some are plagiarized, but plagiarism means that the content will flunk Copyscape or Plagium, and that sections of the article are word-for-word excerpts off the original. A plagiarism-detection site will alert you to plagiarism.
To avoid accusations of plagiarism, credit the original author and include their site’s link if you want to use verbatim portions.
If someone accuses you of plagiarism, you have to ask yourself how original THAT person’s article is. The person who thought I had copied his story on burst training, certainly, is not the first person ever on this planet to write about burst training.
If you’re still not sure what the difference is between rewriting and plagiarism, simply paste your article into a plagiarism-detection template, then wait for the results. If it detects plagiarism, reword that portion until the content clears.