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Do Freelance Writers Own the Articles They Write?

Transparency: I am not a lawyer. Never even liked legal dramas. But I’ve spent my entire adult life dealing with content and content rights in one shape or another. As a teenager, and into my 30s, I was involved in the music industry. So, long before content marketing became my job, content and content ownership was on my radar.

I read A LOT on publishing back in the day; when you're involved in something like the music business, you’re dealing with intellectual property. And one thing any artist can tell you - the money always follows ownership of the content. It’s the same in the digital economy - money follows ownership.

Understanding Content Rights? Worth the Effort!

As a writer, have you ever wondered who owns the content you create? It’s an important question that every writer needs to consider, regardless of their level of experience. In this - my maiden article for Writers Are Marketers - we’ll take a closer look at content rights and figure out who owns the content you create.

We Own It Until We Don’t (Work-for-Hire)

Now, by default, creators like you and me own the content we create until and unless we transfer or assign those rights to someone else. When a person, organization, or publisher buys content from you - such as when you're hired to write content - you're working under what's called a work-for-hire basis.

And what that basically means is that someone is hiring you to come in and create content. By accepting payment, you are essentially agreeing to assign permanent rights to the client or employer as soon as you are paid. It becomes their content to do with whatever they want.

If you’re hired as a freelancer to create articles, work-for-hire is going to be the typical arrangement EVEN THOUGH it’s usually not something that is discussed or written in a contract like, “Hey, as soon as you write this, I own this content.” But that's actually what's happening. That’s the expectation.

Now, a caveat…

Social Media Creators vs Article Writers

Things are very different when it comes to being a social media creator because that content is made to be reshared online in its entirety, preferably to multiple platforms and by multiple people.

Articles, on the other hand, are usually intended to be published to a single platform (usually a website) with links or snippets shared to to social media in order to get eyes on the original piece of content. It’s a small-ish nuance, but a nuance nevertheless.

While the rights you have to content are the same regardless of the content format, the industry expectations are different. Many freelance writers will part with their content rights if the client agrees to pay their fee, while social media creators are more likely to want to negotiate content rights.

Should Freelance Writers Negotiate Content Rights?

Well, that’s up to you. If you are not comfortable permanently assigning the rights to a piece of content that you wrote, then you will need to have in writing exactly what the client or employer can do with the content and what they’re paying for.

Just a heads up… most clients and employers are going to want exclusive rights to the content, probably until it becomes outdated and needs to be updated. What they don’t want is to see a piece of content you wrote for them also posted to your own website or to a competitor’s site. Makes sense, right?

So that's how content rights work. When you are a freelance writer, yes, you do legally own the rights to your piece of content.


I would say one more thing too, because this is going to be important for your portfolio. If you're just starting out, you will want to negotiate some sort of rights for you to display that content as part of your portfolio. Except for ghostwritten content, you want to push for the right to display that content or share a link to any content you write as part of your portfolio.

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