I’m a freelance writer for an online food magazine. I choose my own subjects to write about, provide my own photos.
I do get paid for my writing but have never signed a contract.
I like the editor very much and don’t want to step on toes.
What I’d like to know is if it’s legal for me to compile all of my articles, change them up a bit and then put them into a book format for resale.
First, I’m not a lawyer – and I don’t even play one on TV or in radio dramas.
Since you don’t have a contract that let’s you keep the copyright I think it’s safe to start with the assumption that the site does own the work you sold them even if you don’t find a copyright notice there.
Assuming that’s the case you can’t just take the articles and the photos you submitted and re-use them in any fashion without their explicit permission. Nor will changing them “up a bit” allow you to use them.
Not so by the way this is a perfect example of why we should all have contracts with those we write for and those contracts should spell out who owns our work. If you look around you’ll see while it’s not the norm it’s also not unusual for writers to retain copyrights.
More common in a situation like this would be to only sell First Rights – then you’d have the option to sell the articles and photos again. Though to be clear, I’m not sure that would allow you to put them in a book.
Which is not to say all is lost.
You could simply ask your editor there if they have any objection to your using the articles and photos in a book. They might say yes. The magazine might also want you to make some sort of a statement like “article and picture original appeared in (name of magazine/site.)”
It could be that they would want to join you, and maybe even provide some initial funding, in creating the book so both you and the magazine would profit from it.
In terms of rewriting if you can’t get permission to use the articles and photos as they are you’ll have to totally rewrite each one and use different photos. A total rewrite can be difficult to quantify but you’d want to rewrite enough so most people wouldn’t recognize them. Even then it would be nice to acknowledge the magazine.
Another thing to consider is that you may want to totally rewrite them when you’re re-purposing each idea for a book. The truth is that when I want to reuse material I wrote awhile back I often want to do a major rewrite.
Do you have a question about freelance writing? Contact me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to answer it here.