Article Spinning: The Ethical Debate

With the influx of freelance writers utilizing the internet for contacts and a jumpstart to their career, article spinning has come to be commonplace. This raises an ethical debate, which applies to both writers and the individuals buying or requesting these spun articles. You may ask yourself why a writer would want to take either one of their articles, or another person’s article and spin it to seem like new content. When I was in school, this was still considered plagiarism. But these days, companies and individual website owners are paying decent money for writers to do just that; and writers are jumping up to meet the need. Programs have even been developed in order to make sentence spinning easier, faster, and more able to pass plagiarism detecting programs like Turnitin or Copyscape. But does this mean the practice is ethical? Should writers be applying their craft to something like this? And should buyers really be asking for it to be done, instead of demanding original content?

What is Article Spinning?

Article spinning is the practice of changing, or “spinning,” article content in order to make it pass search engine content filters that look for duplicates and reject them. This is done by taking each and every sentence and rearranging the words, and changing words, but still keeping the main idea of the article.

Companies and website owners seek spun articles in order to maximize website page views or product exposure, and getting someone to spin an article is generally cheaper than commissioning a writer to compose new original content.

The Debate

So now that we’ve covered what article spinning is, it’s time to address the ethical issues behind it. As with any topic, there are two sides to this whole article spinning craze. As mentioned earlier, buyers of these types of articles cannot wholly be to blame for the rising prevalence of spun articles. There is both a market for spun articles, and a number of individuals willing to meet that need.

First, we’ll address the for article spinning side. There is a market for it, and it’s paying. Freelance writers have a really hard time getting work and maintaining enough work to pay their bills. Everyone’s heard of the starving writer stereotype, and there are a number of writers seeking to break free of their financial woes and make a living off writing. The demand for spun articles seems to meet this need, and this may be one reason why writers are willing to take on the tasks. Can you blame them? It can be argued that just because you refuse doesn’t mean the trend will go away, it seems there is always someone else willing to do the job. Some writers may figure they might as well just say yes and make some simple money.

Another argument is that there is no longer any original content. A blog on SpunWrite’s blog put forth this argument noting that no one person is going to write the all out definitive article on any one topic, and if they did there would be no variety available (2007). The same source goes on to specify that textbooks and other online sites like Wikipedia often contain spun content (Spunwrite, 2007).

Another argument is that search engines are packed with content, so much that one single search may yield a million different options to search through. With this vast number of available articles, what are the odds anyone is going to find your one? Article spinning offers writers and/or buyers of spun articles the opportunity to build upon their content and make it more accessible to the general public. What if it meant that no matter what keywords an individual used on your subject matter, one of your articles would come up in the first two pages of the search engine? It is for this very reason that website owners and business are so much for spun articles, it simply gives them the exposure they’re looking for. To them, it is one other marketing tool.

Of course, there is also another side to this topic. As I mentioned earlier, some writers may assume they should simply pay their bills and meet the need for the content instead of letting others do it. But there are also a number of writers who vehemently oppose article spinning and refuse to do it, hoping that buyers of such articles will merely decide to purchase original articles. However, the line is a bit blurry on spinning your own articles. At this point you are writing the original content, and thus have the right to change it in any way you like. In my experience, there are a number of writers in opposition to article spinning who would feel better about spinning their own work. At least at this point, they feel as though they are merely producing vast numbers of articles on the same topic, and they have control over what is being done with their articles.

The main problem comes about when employers ask writers to spin pre-written articles that were not written by the spinner. In this case, it seems clear that plagiarism is being committed. The definition of plagiarism is using another person’s work without first gaining their permission, or properly citing the source. In article spinning, the writer is taking another person’s work and rearranging it, neither citing, nor asking for permission. Some companies will buy the rights to an article, but a great many do not; and generally the writer does not know which one. So, ethically, using another person’s work is plagiarism, and it’s hard to justify article spinning as anything but, unless the article being spun belongs to the person who is also doing the spinning, or if the rights have been purchased.

The next area of contention comes with writers sinking to working only as spinners, instead of honing their writing craft. While it is a way to make money, and there is stable enough work in the area, as a writer, do you want to be stuck spinning articles instead of producing original content? Furthermore, your writing portfolio will consist mainly of spun articles, which makes for a very weak writing portfolio, and may cause your writing reputation to suffer.

Conclusion

No matter what side you are on, it seems article spinning is here to stay as long as the internet is. Whether you’re a writer willing to spend your time spinning articles is up to you, and whether you’re a business owner or website owner willing to purchase and post spun articles is up to you. There is no real answer, mainly because there is no actual legislation on the matter. Furthermore, the job of an article spinner is to spin the article beyond recognition, so pinning down an individual for plagiarism may prove difficult. However, until there is definite legislation on the matter of article spinning, it will remain up to the discretion of those spinning and buying.

References:

Spun Write (2007). On the Ethics of Article Spinning.

Johnson, A.P. (2011). Freelance Article Spinning is Bad Business.