Ruby’s Tips for Newbies: Why Rewriting Can Land You in Hot Water

Rewriting a published article is a pretty common practice among bloggers. You see a really cool topic and you want to share it with your readers, but you also need content for your own posts. So you write a new post that basically says everything that was said in the original article – but in your own words. Many bloggers attempt to be honest in doing this and they actually give credit to the original author, as well as a link back to the source.

The problem is, “rewriting” or “paraphrasing” an entire published work is copyright infringement. And if you fail to give credit to the author of the original work, it’s also plagiarism.

How Can Your Own Words Violate Copyrights?

Intellectual property can be difficult to understand. But what you need to know is that ideas, concepts, and research are just as much someone’s property as the words they use the communicate them. Paraphrasing a copyrighted work without permission is just as much of a violation as copying it word for word.

If You’re Allowed to Quote an Article, Why is Rewriting So Bad?

The reason that copying, distributing, or rewriting someone else’s work violates copyright is that you are replacing the original work with your own version. That robs the original author of the right – the copyright – to decide how his work will be used. In many cases, it can also rob that content creator of actual income.

You can quote from a published work because you’re only taking a small amount of the original work. That’s considered fair use if you provide the proper credit.

But you can’t take the whole of any copyrighted work and use it for your own purposes – not without permission. You also can’t take the heart of a protected work – like the core facts from an article on nutrition or the health benefits of specific foods. It doesn’t matter if you give credit. And it doesn’t matter if you put the work into your own words.

Would It Be OK if I Rewrote Your Novel in My Own Words?

What if you wrote a really successful novel – something on par with The Hunger Games or End of Watch or Inferno. And what if I totally rewrote the novel in my own words? I could change all the characters’ name and invent a new name for the place where the novel is set. And of course, I could tweak the scenes ever so slightly to make them seem different. But I’d really just be publishing a copy of your book, like a mirrored reflection but slightly out of phase.

Now what if my version of your story sold well too? And what if it caused sales of your book to drop? How would that make you feel? Well, you should feel violated. Because that’s exactly what rewriting is. It’s violating another person’s copyright – the right to control how an original work is used.

There are ways to share a copyrighted work without violating the creator’s rights. One option is to curate the original content. Another is to produce a new work that adds substantial value to the earlier work. I will look at how these things can be done in future articles. But for now, just remember that you should never attempt to copy the whole of any copyrighted article, even in your own words. You need to produce your own original content to be safe, and that means the bulk of your articles should be your own thoughts, words, and ideas.


Rewriting can land you in hot water! | Paraphrasing a whole article or retelling an entire story in your own words is stealing

Rewriting can land you in hot water!
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Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne

This article was published on BlogBourne. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!


    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      You can most definitely build on an earlier work. That touches on the concept of “added value,” But it has to be substantial value. So you can’t rewrite a 5-paragraph news story and then add just a few lines of commentary at the end. That would still be the bad kind of rewriting.

  1. Profile photo of Andria Perry
    Andria Perry

    What I think is …

    When someone uses another persons article to do their spin on it they get carried away and get lost.

    When using a favorite quote some forget why they use it, then its lost again.

    I tweeted this article.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      That can happen, Andria. Especially if a blogger writes without outlining the post first. That’s a dangerous thing for most writers to do, regardless of whether there’s another source involved. It’s way too easy to go off topic!

      But some people do intentionally set out to rewrite a published article. We are seeing it here on BlogBourne, and it’s common on other writing sites too. It is considered a rules violation on most sites, but it does tend to slip through the cracks. We’re trying to clean it up here. So if you see a post that’s essentially just a paraphrase of its source, please do report it.

      Thanks for the Tweet! I hope we can get the word around and cut this bad habit before it becomes too prevalent.

  2. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
    Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

    @stbrians Giving a ratio is a bit misleading, Meshack. Because if you “borrow” the heart of the original author’s text, it’s still copyright infringement even if you give credit. I like the example given in the article I linked. If I took the words, “I can’t get no satisfaction” from the song “Satisfaction” and I wrote a new song around the opening guitar riff, I could add as much of my own content as I want to the song. But I’d still be committing copyright infringement.

    The same goes for the ubiquitous health posts we see. If you read an article by a doctor who says that grilling meat at high temperatures creates carcinogens and then goes on to list ways to reduce health risks, you can’t write an article that also does all those things but in your own words. Even if you add your own commentary to the post, you’re still violating the original author’s copyright. Or if you read an article about spices that are used as medicines and the author lists ginger, turmeric and cinnamon along with each of their health benefits, you can’t write an article that lists the exact same spices with the same health benefits – even if you take an additional three spices from a second article and add them in for good measure.

    The point is not to copy the heart of someone’s research or their article.

    So I can tell you to have 75% – 80% of your own content, which is probably what most editors are looking for. But even if it’s 95% your own content, you may still be violating a copyright if you copied (or paraphrased) the heart of a copyrighted work without permission.

    Does that make sense?

  3. Profile photo of Deb Jones
    Deb Jones

    I found this information very troubling for my style of writing — not because it’s inaccurate, but because it is so accurate. I write news and I write health, two areas where the facts are the facts. When I write, it is often to explain the context of these facts, or put them in a different light, but I’m still using sources and sometimes the “heart” of something else.

    There is much for me to consider going forward as a writer. I don’t wish to be a thief or a copyright violator. So much of what I’ve done as a writer now seems tainted and false.

    I appreciate what you’ve shared here and the insights its provided for me.

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      @feisty Actually Deb, if I were going to hold up anyone’s writing as an example of how to tell the news or explain a health concern THE RIGHT WAY, it would be yours! I was so pleased when you joined BlogBourne because I have admired the way you address current events and health news for a long time, now. Please, don’t change a thing!

      Because you give a lot of added value when you write, I believe your work meets the fair use tests. Even though you may be explaining something that’s at the heart of the original source, you add more than enough extra details to satisfy the original content requirements.

  4. Profile photo of Pat Z Anthony
    Pat Z Anthony

    Too many will never understand this. It also is easy to forget where you learned what you are writing about at times, especially for those of us who are researchers or are avid readers. So much information is in our heads: Did I dream this? Did you tell me this? Was this information in a book?

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      When I was in college, they taught us that you don’t need to cite a reference if you can find a piece of information in at least three (preferably unrelated) sources. So I don’t sweat the stuff that’s pretty common knowledge.

      But rewriting an entire article, even if the same details are in a dozen similar articles, is still infringement. Most newspapers and TV networks subscribe to wire services like Reuters and AP. And they use syndication a lot these days too. But they pay fees to use the information, photos, etc. provided by these services. We don’t generally pay those fees as individual writers, nor do the blogging platforms we use to publish our content. So we can cite some of the details sparingly in a post or article that is mostly original content, but we can’t just retell the story in our own words.

  5. Profile photo of Linda Jenkinson
    Linda Jenkinson

    i do re-write old articles that have come from now defunct (The Examiner) writing sites. But to protect it I pretty much change the wording and maybe the angle, leaving large chunks out and adding new info. I realize you could be caught plagiarizing your own work so am sure not too. Is what I am doing still kosher and what does ‘curate’ the article mean?

    btw- great article!

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      Lin, reworking your articles is a great idea! And by that, I mean you’re not just migrating a post from one site to another. You’re rewriting a post for a different audience or to suit the style of a different site, updating info, adding new content, etc. That’s not self-plagiarism, as long as you state that the article was originally published elsewhere. And of course, you need to be sure the site allows for content migration. Not all do – and some require the content to be deindexed by Google before you publish.

      Curating is writing a post that talks about a published article, video, blog post, etc. It’s a way to share and feature, or highlight, another person’s creation without violating their copyright. You can quote briefly from the original text, but the main idea is to drive traffic to the original. You’re just talking about why you think the original is worthy and to whom it would be of value. In a way, it’s sort of like writing a review. I’ll post more about curating content in the near future.

  6. Profile photo of Marsha Cooper
    Marsha Cooper

    This is the exact reason why I have trouble with writing informational posts. Of course I never copy the whole text then just change it a bit. I do just take bits and pieces and rearrange, or use my own words on the few posts I have done as such, as well as cite all websites or books where I found the information.

    Some PR companies send me things to post and ask to just copy and paste info into my blog. I don’t even like to do too much of that because of the duplicate content issue.

    When I am doing these tutorials I am making, I’m sure they are out there online, however, I’ve not looked to see. I am doing a step, taking the picture, then writing in word what the step is until I am done and ready to publish.

    Actually, the post I am working on making up now, I did look up the quilt pattern and plan to share the original pattern link. Mine is not the same as the original, rather a type of it.
    Would also including a link to a youtube video that someone has made of the type of pattern (if available) also be fine to add into the bottom of the post?

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      Oh wow! Lots to answer there!

      1) The trick with informational posts is added value or some kind of transformation. If you use someone else’s information, cite it. But also try to add to it in some way or to use it in a different way. Then your post is unique. Also, don’t try to take the whole of something (like an entire news story, or all the examples cited in a nutrition article) and use that as the foundation for your post. That’s too much “borrowing” and not enough of your own thoughts.

      2) Yeah, I’d avoid anything that’s made to look like a unique post but that’s used purely for PR purposes. That’s just in poor taste, regardless of how search engines view it. But I’d be OK curating content on their site or with posting a press release, as is. I like to be out front about things, to be honest. Not to try to pretend an ad is actually a post.

      3) If the tutorial comes from your own project, is in your own words and is accompanied by your images of the project, it’s original content. There may be other posts that offer similar content. But it’s not the SAME.

      4) Sure, aYouTube video is great! I love to link to them and I’m hoping we can soon embed them right into our posts 🙂

  7. Profile photo of John

    Might as well “create” a ‘parallel article” / dimension with it than to be accused of plagiarism or infringement. The Flash is entirely different from X-men’s Quick Silver but when they run, they are so fast they could see their backs with great speed!

    1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
      Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

      Sure! Be inspired but write something that’s your own.

      I’ll give you an example of an article that I wrote years ago when cholera had struck after the earthquake in Haiti. There had been a case of cholera in Montreal, a woman who had visited the island nation during the outbreak.

      Instead of rewriting the news story, I used it as background for a featured article for the health & wellness section of the website where I was publishing. I tied in another outbreak story, and some historical background about cholera in Montreal in the 19th century. Then I finished up with health information. That article was accepted by the editor and then brought to the attention of an administrator for the site, who commented on how well written it was.

      Most writing sites are desperate for people to learn how to write their own content instead of rewriting the news. If you can do it consistently, you’ll always be in demand.

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