The Legal Implications of Ghostwriting
There was a time when hiring a ghostwriter service was an activity only known to book writers looking for someone to do the first book draft homework for them, which would then be rewritten with a specific personal style, or for websites needing lots of authorless content. Today, however, ghostwriting has worked its way into peer-reviewed professional journals, which of course is causing all sorts of headaches with regards to how much these articles and their stated “authors” can now be relied upon.
Technically, ghostwriting involves a contractual assignment where a “ghost” writer is paid to produce written work and understands the buyer will claim and use it as his own. In exchange, the real writer is paid for his work and product, relinquishing ownership and copyright of the work produced if the contract actually defines this trade. In some cases, where ownership is not bought, then the real writer is selling a license to use the written material to the buyer who can still then claim it as his own.
The benefits of using a ghostwriter can be multiple for a busy primary author. It can help in multi-tasking, allowing basic research to be taken care of by someone else. It also frees up time for a buyer to work on other projects that produce money.
Implications of Hidden Authorship
So where is the harm? It depends on what the articles are used for. Especially in the case where material is being used for expert advice without the appropriate disclosures or where it is being sold as a product from a given person or source, which it is not, then the problems begin. For example, certain products develop a reputation based on quality. This quality level is achieved and acknowledged based on quality work and maintaining certain standards of production. So if tomorrow the production is suddenly shifted to a third world country using substandard materials and no standards applied for quality control with a brand label just slapped on, then people would feel like fraud victims unless the production change was fully disclosed. With ghostwriting the same scenario can occur when readers pay for the written product, assuming it was written by the famous named author.
Obviously, the above risk is entirely on the buyer of the written product, because he is the one marketing the ghostwritten material as his own. For the ghostwriter, however, implications in the potential fraud could be linked unless the writer can clearly show he had no part in further marketing. This is proven by the ghostwriting contract between the parties; it needs to clearly state the ghostwriter’s job ends with delivery of the written product and payment in full. Afterwards, the parties go their separate ways per the contract.
If a buyer of ghostwriting material is planning to resell the written product, it’s very likely disclosure of who the real author is will become more and more of an issue as ghostwriting awareness increases. This is a challenge for celebrity authors and producers as people buy their material due to name recognition and an expectation of personal involvement. It’s likely ghostwriting in professional circles will eventually become defined, but in the meantime buyers should be careful what they say they “own.”
Tom L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.