The ethics of ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is, basically, content writing where the person getting the credit isn’t the actual author.

Have you watched the film The Wife, with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce? Well, that kind of thing. In other words, the true author’s identity is a mystery.

We normally associate the concept of ghostwriting with celebrity memoirs, but ghostwriters provide all kinds of services. Blog posts, books, proposals, white papers, music and marketing copy, among others.

A ghostwriter agrees to waive all rights, once they receive payment, to the content they produce. Ghostwriters are often asked about the ethics of what they do. Some people consider this unethical, and that’s what we want to explore in this article.

Context matters

To determine how sound the ethics of ghostwriting are, it’s important to first establish a difference between different pieces of writing and their purposes.

Let’s begin with marketing. Companies of all sizes regularly publish content that’s written by copywriters, across different platforms. The public rarely finds out the names of these copywriters (and editors). This is a form of ghostwriting, particular to the field of marketing, that we are all used to.

For some people, if the actual writer has willingly accepted to receive payment in return for not getting credit, and there’s no harm or deceit involved, there’s nothing fraudulent about the practice.

This is mostly the case of writing that relies on this service is for entertainment and information dissemination purposes in the first place. So who truly writes the text doesn’t matter in the long run.

The problem arises when a ghostwriter is employed, for example, in the field of academic studies or research. For example, some university students who need to submit a piece of written work to graduate might resort to academic ghostwriting.

Well, that’s a completely different story to ghostwriting a blog post for marketing purposes. In academic settings, ghostwriting constitutes a form of plagiarism, misconduct, and cheating.

If a scholar is evaluated based on their written work, then it is unethical if somebody else does the job for them – right? Also, who guarantees the ghostwriter will keep quiet and respect confidentiality? There have been cases where they violated it!

The case of literature

Some people argue that literary ghostwriting is fraudulent. They say that the consuming public will spend money on something not worth it. They will leave the book store with a book that is not of the same quality as it would be by the original author.

According to this logic, the case is different when the public is aware of the situation. In the Millenium saga by Stieg Larsson, for example, Larsson died before finishing the last book. He only left a draft! So his family hired a different author to finish the book, but the public knew.

But, many point out that, in most cases, the author and the ghostwriter work in complete synergy. The ghostwriter faithfully reflects what the author would have said if they had the time, talent or patience to write the piece themselves.

When you think of it this way, the conclusion is that there is nothing remotely unethical about this way of working.

Some other thoughts

Finally, some say that proper credit should be given to all true authors of any texts even if as a side note on the website.

Alternatively, the person getting the credit for the work should write at least a draft and then hire an editor who will ‘jazz it up’ and give it a final polish. Most ghostwriters don’t agree, though, and they will tell you they are happy to not get the credit as long as they are paid their rate.

Are you a ghostwriter? Have you ever hired ghostwriting services?

Let us know your thoughts about this topic in the comments!

Originally published on:

What do you think?

Your email will not be published. ProCopywriters members: log in before commenting so your comment links to your profile.

Become a member

Join ProCopywriters

Connect with peers, develop your skills and extend your reach on our blog.

Become a member
Learn online

Online workshops

Every month we get an expert, an author or a professional trainer to deliver a one-hour presentation on copywriting, marketing or digital media.

Browse events