If ghostwriting seems like a dream job to you, you’re not alone! At The Urban Writers, we receive tens of thousands of applications monthly from talented writers who wish to do this job. Yet, one concern frequently comes to mind: Is being a ghostwriter legal?
Ghostwriting Legal Aspects: Should You Get Legal Tips if Working as a Ghostwriter?
Ghostwriting legal aspects to think about concern more than the question of whether ghostwriting services as a practice, or a job, are legal or not.
Ghostwriting is a profession with a long history. Many celebrities and historical figures have used ghostwriters, and many famous writers have also begun their careers ghostwriting for other authors.
In fact, ghostwriting has been in use legally for hundreds of years by individuals who had innovative ideas to publish, but either lack the time or literary skills to craft their own writing.
However, in the modern times we live in today, and especially with the involvement of technology, e-commerce elements, and widgets in content creation and sales, the matter of using ghostwriters, or working as one, becomes much more intricate.
While the general answer to your question would be 'Yes!' ghostwriting is legal. Though, the manner in which you carry out your business can be subject to litigation and legal liability if you’re not careful.
How to Work as a Legal Ghostwriter! You Don't Need Legal Assistance!
Legal counsel isn't always necessary if you have legal ghostwriting services, in the sense of an obligation to have an entire team of experts working for you if you wish to ghostwrite.
However, some legal ghostwriting considerations are due if you wish to stay on the safe side of the trade. As with any business, there's potential and risk from fraud, tax evasion, being used, or needing legal ghostwriting protection shall problems arise.
The main issues that make ghostwriters worry involve legal assistance in relationships with clients, taking precautions against not being paid, and securing a set of professional conduct rules for themselves and their clients.
Rules apply when it comes to credit, royalties, content ownership, and other aspects of written content creation.
Legal Ghostwriting Involves Attorney Help to Pro Se Litigants
Legal ghostwriting falls under legal services. It includes attorney assistance in writing documents on the client’s behalf. However, unlike the usual court appearances, the attorney isn’t obliged to appear. Instead, the individual represents themselves pro se.
There are many reasons why people choose not to hire an attorney when appearing before the court. Many people struggle with litigation costs, so they have their documents drafted by attorneys and represent themselves.
This form of legal ghostwriting is one of the ways for people to get legal counsel without having to hire an attorney.
Keep in mind that you shouldn't provide legal ghostwriting services as a freelancer. A simple course isn't enough to give an employer the same quality as when the lawyer engages.
The most important reasons for this are the following:
Opposing counsel engages in live discussions.
Affirmative statement writing should be done by a qualified expert. The affirmative statement is a document that only an attorney should write for their employer.
The legal ghostwriting practice requires prime expertise and ethics in handling material evidence.
When to Seek a Lawyers Legal Counsel (Not Exclusive for Pro Se Litigants): Illegal Ghostwriting FAQs
What Are Pro se Litigants? What does a pro se litigant do?
Being a pro se litigant isn't easy. Such duty comes at great risk.
What do the Court Rules Apply to? Why Are Such Rules Important?
Pro se litigants are people who represent themselves in court.
Pro se litigants aren't very common, most people choose to hire a lawyer.
Being a pro se litigant is often considered to be a double-edged sword in the world of law.
Due to a lack of knowledge by the person representing themselves, it frequently happens that they misrepresent themselves, file incorrect paperwork, and pretty much make mistakes that are expected to occur when someone isn't a legal expert.
Is Such Assistance Ethical? Should You Get Such Services?
However, there are times when a court rules in favor of pro se litigants because of their lack of legal knowledge. When lawyers feel that a person would benefit from representing themselves, they may write documentation in their stead.
Why Is Lawyer Participation Better? Lawyer Signs Not to Ignore
Most legal experts would advise getting legal ghostwriting for pro se litigants. It's simply better to have an expert handle your legal documentation than to risk losing a trial or getting penalized as a result of lacking legal knowledge.
Academic Ghostwriting Services are Unethical! They're Not the Same as Legal Ghostwriting
Such assistance with writing is considered academic misconduct and can be potentially harmful to the client's future and career.
Freelance Writer's Legal Assistance: Is Legal Ghostwriting Legal? It's Not the Same as Academic Ghostwriting Services!
Is Academic Ghostwriting Illegal? Consult Legal Services Even if Not a Pro Se Litigant
Although unusual, ghostwritten content is considered legally allowed for the same reason as having any other service delegated to an expert. Lawyers agree that when proper disclosures are made, hiring a ghostwriter is in many ways similar to hiring any other service.
For example, if one is to hire a ghostwriter through a regular job interview process, the working relationship is more-less the same as any other. The authors take the credit for ghostwriter works the same way a company does for the performance and ideas of their employees.
This practice is considered profoundly harmful to academia.
Legal Assistance From Lawyer's Participation Is Welcome!
Such assistance ensures that anyone with an important writing task, whether self-published authors, pro se litigants, or freelance writers use carefully thought-out verbiage that sends their message across without the risk of legal liability.
Law Firms Have a Professional Responsibility to Model Rules for Lawyers in Legal Ghostwriting Services
In regards to the freelancer code of conduct, keep in mind that each individual state is responsible for setting “codes of professional responsibility” that outline attorney ethics. This is particularly important when considering hiring a legal ghostwriter attorney as a pro se litigant.
Freelance Writing Ethics and Non-Disclosure
Ghostwriters provide their services led by a code of conduct, albeit unwritten. Since ghostwriting services aren't as official a profession as some other jobs, the responsibility of one writer isn't as clearly defined as it would be if you were a chef, a doctor, a teacher, or a pilot.
Professional Conduct in Content and Legal Ghostwriting Services: No Disclosure Allowed!
There are several reasons why anonymous writing sometimes instills a sense of unease. Those would be the following:
Ghostwriting or hiring ghostwriting services means that the work is done by one individual, but who takes accountability for the final product?
Clients often worry about a writer using the same writing for their own publishing purposes, and they also worry about the ghostwriter submitting someone else’s content to them.
Ultimately, the biggest fear that clients face, aside from receiving poor quality content, is receiving plagiarized content. Many clients don’t have the skills to properly check content for plagiarism, and too often, their freelancer’s professional misconduct is revealed too late.
Having lost money and gained no quality work isn’t the worst part. The client’s reputations and careers can be at stake, and in the case of business owners, their company, website, and sales performance can suffer as well.
Although anonymous writing is legal, the practice itself has remained somewhat private over the century of its development. In fact, an average reader often doesn’t know what ghostwriting services are or what a freelance writer is.
This is partially due to the fact that clients take credit for ghostwritten work, and the majority of people who hire writers don’t wish for it to be known.
Plus, readers aren’t too fond of the idea that their favorite author not doing their own writing.
The exclusivity, privacy, and secrecy surrounding ghostwriting and using writers also stem from one simple reason: They’re hired to stay invisible!
A great ghostwriter will write best-selling books, but never reveal that they are behind the famous work to the public, other clients, or even their friends and family.
Yet, this privacy in professional conduct often creates a veil of mystery around ghostwriting that collides with the notion of transparency one relates with conducting business.
This often makes people wonder if ghostwriting is at all legal, and if so, how to tackle a ghostwriting project in terms of negotiation, planning, setting terms, contracts, and payment.
Clients sometimes face an emotional and moral dilemma regarding whether or not it’s okay to pass someone else’s work off as their own. However, there are valid reasons why the legal code saw these types of services as lawful and ethical.
In fact, many legal experts and attorneys themselves hire writers for some of their work. They often use ghostwriting for law firm pleadings and appellate briefs.
The legality of ghostwriting was made official by the 2007 ABA (American Bar Association) opinion that decided that ghostwriters meet model Rules of Professional Conduct and Professional Responsibility.
A similar opinion was given by the New Your County Law Association in their New York Ethics opinion.
However, for ghostwritten work to be entirely legal, it’s necessary that proper service disclosures are made.
Professional Conduct With Client Work: Court Rules Apply Even Outside the Courtroom Even When You're not a Pro Se Litigant
What predominantly makes ghostwriting legal, according to the Court’s Views, is the fact that both parties are willingly agreeing to it.
As a ghostwriter, the creator of written content agrees to write on behalf of the named author, under predetermined conditions and requirements of the subject.
The client, or the named author of the produced work, agrees to pay compensation for the ghostwriter’s work.
However, these aren’t the only relevant details when it comes to legal ghostwriting.
The key elements of ghostwriting when it comes to its legality include the following:
Plagiarism. Both parties should agree on the definition and forms of plagiarism that are forbidden by their agreement. They should also agree regarding what methods will be used to scan and detect plagiarism, as well as what results would constitute breaking the terms of agreement.
Intellectual property. Ghostwriting agreements often contain so-called nondisclosure agreements that protect the client’s right to sign the work and refer to it as theirs. The intellectual property rights are passed from the ghostwriter to the client once the payment has been made.
Before the transaction has been made, the writer owns the intellectual rights to the work. However, after clients pay their ghostwriter the arranged fee, the intellectual rights pass to the client. After that, the client/author has all editing, publishing, reproduction, and other rights to the content.
Compensation. Both the ghostwriter and the client/author define the terms under which the writer will be compensated for their work. Not only the price of the project but also the pace at which the ghostwriter will be compensated (e.g. hourly, per milestone, in advance, upon completion, etc.), as well as the payment method and payment information, are laid out in the agreement.
Termination. Your ghostwriting agreement should also define the terms of termination. These agreements define what happens in case either of the sides wishes to terminate the agreement. How much will the ghostwriter be paid for their time? Who will own the content so far? These and other aspects also need to be laid out when discussing the terms of the agreement.
Professional Conduct Outside Client-Based Projects
Even when not working with clients, writers are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards so that they don't end up requiring an attorney.
No doubt should be cast on the ghostwriter's personality, ethics, professionalism, or behavior.
When hiring a ghostwriter, a client pays attention to and ensures that their freelance writer has an impeccable background and favorable reviews and references.
Writing, Style, and Authority
Also, keep in mind that ghostwriting doesn’t look the same across the board.
Some blog and website owners hire writers and post writing as a website, blog, or organization and not as an individual. In that case, a ghostwriter may perform a wider range of different duties, like research, interviewing, and others, or the website owner can take up those duties and just have the ghostwriter put the materials in writing.
However, in most cases, the author/client is the authority behind the writing works. Why? Because they provide a unique idea and angle to write from, and often their own materials for ghostwriters to use. This makes the author a true owner of the writing, while the ghostwriter remains more or less an assistant in delegated writing.
Written Work Standards and Quality Work
Quality work is often difficult to outline in a contract, so it's best if both freelancers and their clients agree on what they consider to be quality writing. Experienced freelancers often urge their clients to lay out a comprehensive list of requirements for quality work that later serves as a reference in case of disputes.
Legal Ethics: No Academic Ghostwriting Services
How ethical ghostwriting is ultimately depends on whether or not both the writer and the author adhere to the highest standards of professional behavior when it comes to writing. If the writer is creating quality work as agreed by the terms of their agreement, then the work is ethical.
However, in non-fiction writing, there’s a lot of space to create low-quality, fraudulent, false content. If the claims made in the writing are inaccurate, the writing is plagiarized, or the writer/author is claiming to be an expert in their niche when they’re not, or the writing content is otherwise potentially harmful to the writer, then that particular ghostwriting can be considered unethical.
However, since the authors, ghostwriters, and the truthfulness of the source content used to create the writing is hard to establish, these particular aspects of writing aren’t subject to legal liability. Instead, they remain in the realm of professional ethics where potential consequences are those to the author’s and the writer’s business and reputation.
Unfair Advantage Versus Being in a Vulnerable Position as a Pro Se Litigants
There are instances when ghostwriting is unethical. If a ghostwriter "underbids," or agrees to work significantly below the industry standard, sub-hires another ghostwriter to complete the work without telling their client, or abuses the client's lack of knowledge of industry standards to gain substantial profits, they can be held legally liable.
Such rules apply to federal courts that don't look kindly on contracts that abuse their clients.
Furthermore, it's often noted that writers have an unfair advantage in disputes and litigation. The court rules in favor of writers who act as pro se litigants most of the time. Aspects like "quality writing" are hard to prove, and even plagiarism is difficult to prove at times.
Because of this, it's a common complaint by clients that writers are given too much leeway in the court process. However, that leeway usually comes at the cost of the writer's inability to collect a payment from a ghosting client. If a client simply decides not to pay their freelancer, it's equally hard for the writer to prove that they did the job as requested and that they didn't get compensated.
Ghostwriting Legality When It Comes to Credit and Ownership
But, what about credit and attribution for written works?
This particular aspect of ghostwriting is up to the writer and the client to agree on. Most of the time, clients want full credit for the written or copywritten work. Other times, clients agree to either partially or fully credit the ghostwriter for their work for a discount or a price adjustment.
As you can conclude, it’s the contract that makes ghostwriting ultimately legal. As long as you work with a writer or a client with a well-written contract that defines all aspects of your collaboration, you shouldn’t run into any trouble.
The main reason why legal experts find anonymous writing to be legal is that it is a willing exchange or a transaction of content for a fee in which none of the parties is at some sort of harm, whether intellectual or material.
Is Ghost Writing Academic Papers Permitted by Law?
Although not forbidden by law, various legal consequences can arise against both clients and the ghostwriter.
Academic ghostwriting services are both unethical and morally wrong. Any type of academic work, whether it’s an essay, a research paper, or a thesis should be uniquely written directly by the author. Strangely enough, it’s not the ghostwriter that gets penalized for this type of work, but the author directly.
If a ghostwriter is revealed to have ghostwritten papers for their client, they can have their website and social media pages shut down. However, they likely won’t get any charges pressed against them unless the writing itself isn’t a part of a criminal or illegal act that the writer willingly and knowingly contributed to.
However, a person who receives academic ghostwriting services can face severe repercussions for their career, and these can lead up to problems with the law. For example, if a student used academic ghostwritten work to apply for any type of funding (not the same as grant writing, which is legal), and they receive funds based on their work, the person or an organization that funded the client may ask for a return.
If the person who purchased academic work and, hence, committed academic misconduct doesn’t act according to their obligations (e.g. returning funding), they may find themselves in court for entirely different reasons.
Is Working With a Ghostwriter Legal if Not for Academic Purposes?
The short answer would be, Yes. Unless it's academic ghostwriting, it is legal. Ghostwriting provides such services in which the ghostwriter writes articles, ebooks, or other types of copywriting work under someone else's name.
ghostwriting has been made legal by the following:
ABA Model Code
American Bar Association
Can Clients Sue Freelance Writers? Get Legal Services in Case Law
There are certain practices that pose a risk of a lawsuit if a ghostwriter isn’t careful. These are the following:
False Statement, Defamation, Invasion of Privacy
Be careful when writing about other people. Writing about other people leaves you open to libel laws, privacy laws, and defamation claims. If either of the persons in the ghostwriting services agreement isn’t careful about these writing elements, and otherwise, other contract elements that regulate liability, the writer can find themselves in hot water.
Interview Disclosure and Release Forms
With interviews, release forms are necessary to protect yourself from any legal actions by the interviewee. These release forms are needed regardless of the type, length, and way in which you conduct interviews.
Songs and lyrics. If you wish to quote others’ writing, it has to be done with an original author’s permission.
Quotations and references. Any content quoted or paraphrased from others’ written works has to be cited and referenced properly. Most authors demand that the freelancer assumes responsibility for this aspect of written work.
Use of copyright materials, like images. Be careful with the images you use for a publication, whether a freelancer or an author. Without direct permission or purchase, you’re only allowed to use royalty-free materials.
States require both persons to agree on payment terms in business relationships. Unless these terms are clearly defined in a contract, both parties can dispute the financial aspects of the agreement.