Who owns the copyright when you’re ghost-writing?

Writers and Authors reader Diane Lacelle recently asked the question "If a writer was hired to write a book for an author, who has the rights to the copyrights and everything else? The writer or the author?"

This is a very complex question to answer but the simple reply is "it depends". 

Usually it's the “author” a writer is ghosting for that holds the copyright to the work, but it’s best to actually spell that out in the contract. There may also be exceptions which need to be clearly stated.

I'm not an expert about derivative rights, copyright and all those legal bits that become part of a writers life at some point but my advice is to always study the contract very carefully before signing and if possible get a patent, copyright and trademark attorney to read over the contract too.

If in doubt, don't sign.

N.B. Copyright is not enforceable in the courts until it has been registered in the Copyright Office. This of course assuming that the Copyright Office first determines that the particular writing is subject to being copyrighted.

Have you dealt with copyright issues as a ghost-writer? Got some advice to share from your own experience?

Image source: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Examine_copyright_icon.svg


  1. This is such an important question; thanks for addressing it.

    I think it would make sense for whoever has ideas to have the copyrights, as writing can be quite technical. This means, if you are 'ghost-writing' and you don't have copyrights, keep your ideas to yourself, and do only what the author tells you to the best of your abilities. Would you agree?

    1. As a ghost-writer you are being paid to full-fill the authors requests. However, if you agree to let another person use your writing in their name I would be careful not to give away too much of yourself in the piece that you would then be limited when writing in your own name.

      It's a tricky topic with a LOT of fine print that needs to be considered but important to think about if you're interested in ghost-writing.

  2. I am writing a book. In it, I'm including a person's story that I recorded and then wrote in my own words. The person asked if they would have rights to use that story. How should I handle this?


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