We talk a lot about not copying content on the Web and republishing it. What each of us put online must be unique.

Which led a reader to ask me why we talk about producing ‘copy’ for websites.

So what’s this about writing copy?

It’s a term that predates the Internet by many decades. Professional writers always produce ‘copy’ – for newspapers, magazines, books, you name it.

But why ‘copy’, when the work must be original? I found this on dictionary.com:

1. an imitation…
2. one of various examples…
3. written matter intended to be reproduced in printed form:
“The editor sent the copy for the next issue to the printer.”
4. The text of a news story, advertisement, television commercial, etc., as distinguished from related visual material.
5. the newsworthiness of a person, thing or event…
6. Computers…
7. Genetics…

(my emboldening).

So it seems that copy is a work meant to be copied – i.e. printed or reproduced.

Or is it? On answers.com, I found this definition:

Copy is a derivative of the latin “ad copies” meaning “to provide” which in turn may be traced back to Greek “ad copium” meaning “to nourish” or “to give”. In a modern context it was adopted by the advertising industry as a means to describe the process of writing text with the intent of “providing” the consumer a particular service or product.

Hmm. I’m not a classical scholar, but that doesn’t have much of a ring of truth about it to me – “ad copies”, really?

Or do you know better?

What does writing copy mean?

And then there’s copywriting

That’s copywriting (one word) not copy writing (two words). Or even copyrighting – see your lawyer for that.

Originally the domain of advertising copywriters (not copy writers, you’ll note), the term copywriting applies to writing material for marketing – advertising, direct mail, PR, brochures, and scripts for radio, TV and sales people. Now we add website pages and blogs, podcast scripts, the words on infographics and so on.

Some people refer to the finished document as “the copywriting”, wrongly I feel.

Is copy the same as content?

These days, for many people, they are one and the same. For many years, I’ve argued that content is anything that appears on a website, including images, video, diagrams, infographics, PDFs – not just words. What I produce is copy because it consists of words.

However, just like I had to give up writing about ‘Web sites’ (sites on the Web) and now say ‘websites’, I’ve been talking in terms of content because that’s what most people expect me to call it.

But I digress. Content can be copy, but not necessarily.

Does that help? How do you define copy?

Thanks to fdecomite and Cali4beach for making their images available via Creative Commons.