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Monday, April 16, 2012

Why I No Longer Accept Third-Party Guest Posts

Regular readers of this blog will know that (like many bloggers) I accept guest posts from time to time, to provide fresh ideas and perspectives.

I used to be fairly relaxed about who wrote these guest posts and the websites they were promoting, but a recent incident has forced me to change that policy.

Out of the blue, I received an email containing a DMCA Takedown Notice. This accused me of a copyright violation in respect of a guest post I had published last year, and demanded that the post in question be removed immediately.

Obviously I wasn't too happy about this. I had accepted the article concerned in good faith, so I thought perhaps the author might have been guilty of plagiarism.

When I looked into it, however, it turned out to be more complicated than that, and gave me some interesting (if not entirely welcome) insights into the murky world of paid-for guest posting.

In a nutshell, here's what seems to have happened. The original author of the article had sold it to another company some time ago. A representative of that company had then submitted the article to me as a potential guest post, using a false name and identity (let's call it Marie Smith) and pretending to be a freelance blogger.

The original author then one day came across her article on my blog, assumed I had copied it from somewhere else and published it under Marie's name, and sent the lawyers in.

I wrote to "Marie" to ask for clarification, but of course never heard anything back. To avoid any further hassle or legal threats, I did then remove the guest post concerned. However, I pointed out to the original author that (a) a polite email would have been sufficient to establish what had happened before bringing in the big guns, and (b) if she had sold all rights in the article (as appears to be the case) the company was legally - if not morally - entitled to use it any way it pleased.

This was an unpleasant incident which opened my eyes to the way certain companies are hiring writers (I assume via sites such as Elance) to create guest posts on their behalf, in order to get a link back to the company website in the article byline. Sometimes the hired writer also submits the post, but a lot of the time it appears that the companies concerned then submit the articles themselves using an assumed identity.

Like many bloggers, I get a steady stream of queries from writers who are clearly working for such companies, as they have a standard, fill-in-the-blanks letter they all use. This describes how delighted they were to discover your blog, offers to write a guest post on any subject of your choice, and includes links to other articles they have had published. Coincidentally or otherwise, many of these articles are promoting websites concerned with education, colleges, and so on.

I have, in the past, accepted a few such guest posts, though they have generally needed a lot of editing to bring them up to a publishable standard (while the authors all have names that sound like Hollywood starlets, many give the impression through their writing that English is not their first language).

I have therefore changed my policy now, and only accept guest posts from writers promoting their own blog or website in their byline. I do not accept guest posts (or proposals) from any writer who is seeking a link for a third-party site.

This does not exclude genuine guest bloggers with something interesting to contribute (e.g. MWB regular David Robinson), but it does mean I'm much less likely to accidentally breach someone's copyright or agree to publish a guest post so badly written it would have been quicker to write it myself from scratch. It also reduces the risk I will find myself dealing with a company employee pretending to be a freelance writer.

For the record, I do still very much welcome guest posts (and guest post proposals) from writers and bloggers with something interesting to say, as long as they meet the stipulation above.

Check out my guest post guidelines and if you would be interested in seeing your work on this blog in future, please do drop me a line!

Photo Credit: Unease and Confusion on the T by Jake Liefer on Flickr. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

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Anonymous Allan Douglas said...

(eyes narrow to slits) Hmmm... I too have been getting a lot of these "guest post" inquiries. Most are too commercial for my tastes and I reject them, but one or two have gotten through. And I did notice that the "Author" included absolutely no bio or blog information. I'm wondering if maybe I shouldn't pull those posts down before someone sics their lawyers on me like they did you.

Thanks for the heads up.

7:55 PM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

You live and you learn. What I don't get is this. If you're not paying for the guest posts, how would it benefit me to steal someone's work and put my name on it? I certainly wouldn't risk getting in trouble for the sake of a company byline.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, both. Yes, it's a peculiar business, where nothing (and nobody) is quite what it seems. In my view the safest policy is to decline any guest post proposals along these lines.

10:21 PM  
Blogger historywriter said...

Thanks for the post. I've heard of politicos being hired to write blogs for candidates and pretend that they are real voters/people, but I didn't know it was happening to writers. I've had guest posts on mine, but they are answering questions I send them.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Anna Tan said...

Yikes! Not a good thing to be happening in the blogsphere.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Cassam said...

Woh! I didn't know any of this As I'm a fairly new blogger. I never realised so many people blog for gain, I blog because I have found a love for writing, that is all.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

You're welcome. The writers I'm referring to do answer questions (usually), but based on my experience I'm no longer confident that they are who they say they are, or even whether they actually wrote the article in question.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Emin said...

Wow, this sounds like a harsh lesson to learn. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Nick.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Anna, Cassam and Rebecca. Sorry my reply to historywriter appears in the wrong order above (thanks, Blogger!).

Yes, it's disappointing that this is happening, but maybe not too surprising. Once you have a moderately popular blog (such as mine, I guess), it starts to become an attractive option to many businesses seeking links and publicity.

3:47 PM  
Blogger DW96 said...

Hi Nick

Didn't realsie you had such problems, and I'm sorry you had to find out the way you did.

On a more personal note, I'm about three weeks behind on all fronts. Promised post should be with you by Mid-May now.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, David. I always look forward to receiving YOUR guest posts ;-)

5:14 PM  
Blogger The Hopeful Romantic said...

Wow! I have had a few of these enquiries - the strangest were the ones where the source email address was the same yet the author portrayed themselves to be a female in one email and a male in the other. Either way something didn't seem quite right.

Sorry this happened to you and thanks for the post!

9:45 PM  
Anonymous John Yeoman said...

Your experience disturbs me, Nick. I host a fairly popular site for creative writers and have often toyed with opening a section for guest posts. It never occurred to me that folk might abuse those posts.

I guess I'll carry on writing my own stuff for a while longer. Then I won't face issues with lawyers or aberrant apostrophes :)

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Jessica Moreno said...

Hi Nick !

Such a very interesting post. A must read. I think you made the right decision for preventing such unpleasant incident.

I'm a blogger also (a newby) - do you think I must avoid guest post ?

6:32 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for the latest comments, Jesica, John and Hopeful Romantic :-)

In reply to Jessica's question, I guess this is a decision every blogger must make for themselves. But I do think good guest posts enrich a blog, by bringing fresh ideas and perspectives. I wouldn't personally recommend banning all guest posts, therefore - but based on my experience, I would be very wary about accepting guest posts from people writing on behalf of employers or clients (especially if they don't make this clear initially).

10:20 AM  

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