Copyrights, Intellectual Property, and Ghostwriting

Keeping Your Ideas Safe When Hiring a Ghostwriter

One of the most frequently asked questions from people seeking a ghostwriter is, ‘How do I know a ghostwriter isn’t going to steal my idea?’ It is a very valid question to ask, and one that different ghostwriters deal with in different ways. This blog post will address copyrights, plagiarism, and ethical implications involved with hiring a ghostwriter to write content for you. It’s actually very straightforward, and should leave you with peace of mind should you decide to go down this route.

First of all, let’s just have a quick recap on what the definition of ‘ghostwriter’ is. The website sums it up perfectly, and I’m a huge advocate of not reinventing the wheel, so here we are. According to Freelance Writing: ‘Ghostwriters are writers for hire who are paid but receive none of the credit for the work produced.

There are generally two parties involve[d] in this professional relationship:

  • The “author,” who hires the freelance writer to produce content for an agreed upon fee, takes the credit for all the original work produced.
  • The “ghost,” the freelance writer who is generally paid in advance of completing the job, gets the money as a “work for hire” job and assumes none of the credit for their ghostwriting work.’

When you hire a freelancer who works as a ghostwriter, there is an unspoken agreement initially that the ideas, content and everything else surrounding the book belongs to yourself.

Your book, and all the unique ideas/content involved, is your intellectual property. However, it is worth clarifying this before you dish any dirt on your prospective project. I’d like to think that anybody who works as a ghostwriter understands that this is the case, but for your own sake, just double check. Ideally, get it in writing. Just ask for a quick email clarifying as such. The ghostwriter should be willing to put into writing that they revoke all rights to the content, both written and spoken.

A ghostwriter will never be insulted that you ask for proof they won’t steal or plagiarise your idea.

Honestly, I get asked this on the regular, and it’s just part and parcel of doing this type of thing. Hiring a ghostwriter is a big decision to make. It can be costly, and you want to know that your work is protected. A lot of ghostwriters have a generic contract that they share with the client, to give them peace of mind regarding the process. Something as simple as this: will usually do the trick, and most contracts will be very similar in nature to the one included here. I tend not to use contracts for non-ghostwriting projects, unless the client requests it, as often there will be an agreement in writing anyway.

On a similar note, something you might stumble across when researching the copyright and plagiarism side of ghostwriting is the legality of ghostwriting as a whole.

In fact, one of the most googled questions on ghostwriting is, ‘Is ghostwriting legal UK?’ The answer is yes. Ghostwriting is legal, and perfectly acceptable. There are many reasons you might hire a ghostwriter. I’ve previously written a blog on this topic if you’d like to learn more about that: If you’d like to delve further into the ethics of hiring a ghostwriter, spoiler alert: I’m totally for ghostwriting (duh!), check out this blog post:

Copyrights and ghostwriting tend to go hand in hand.

The Copyright Licensing Agency defines ‘copyright’ as ‘one of the main types of intellectual property. It allows the copyright owner to protect against others copying or reproducing their work.

  • Intellectual property gives a person ownership over the things they create, the same way as something physical can be owned. The main legislation dealing with copyright in the United Kingdom is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
  • Copyright arises automatically when a work that qualifies for protection is created. The work must be original, meaning it needs to originate with the author, who will have used some judgement or skill in its creation’.[1]

It is clear to see that ghostwriting can become an issue in terms of copyrights as there are contentions about who is creating the work.This is why it is handy to have the contract and agreement. However, it is worth noting that the copyright for work created by an employee (during the course of their employment) belongs to the employer. It could therefore be argued that this clause applies directly to ghostwriting anyway. By having the contract, and written agreement, you are doubly protected.

Protecting your ideas is a tricky subject.

It is hard to protect your ideas, especially when they are spoken aloud. On the blog RavenTools, which has fascinating perspectives about ghostwriting (you should totally check it out at: there is a very interesting comment that I think is applicable here, ‘You can’t copyright ideas, but you can copyright turning those ideas into writing.’ There’s an element of trust when you hire a ghostwriter. You have to trust that your ideas are safe in the hands of the ghostwriter you choose to hire. And, at the end of the day, it’s your idea and you are in charge of the outcome. As Writers & Artists[2] states on their blog, there’s no point fretting about somebody ‘stealing’ your ideas because reputable professionals wouldn’t do that. I’m sorry to say that in all likelihood, it is an infinitesimally small chance that you will have an idea nobody else on the planet has had. That being said, what you choose to do with that idea is what makes it unique and special. While you cannot copyright an idea, you can copyright the expression of an idea. That is, essentially, the written form of your idea. So, get everything you have written down on paper. That includes characters, plot, settings (if unique) and timestamp it. After that, it’s a leap of faith, I’m afraid.

If you find a ghostwriter with great reviews, and somebody you can trust, you won’t go far wrong.

If you’re nervous about your ideas being stolen, share that with your potential ghostwriter and see what they can say to make you feel better about it. They should be able to put your mind at ease. If not, consider whether they’re the right person for you (myself included). It won’t be a positive experience if you spend the whole time panicking about whether your ideas and manuscript are safe. Ghostwriting should be an exhilarating process where you finally get to see your vision come to life. Hold onto that and find the ghostwriter that makes you feel that way.

Ghostwriting is both a privilege and an ethical responsibility.

I have always treated ghostwriting as a privilege. The fact that you get to share somebody’s ideas, vision, and support them to make it a reality makes me feel incredibly lucky. I pride myself on confidentiality. Some clients are open about the fact they’re hiring a ghostwriter, while others want you to remain a secret, and that’s totally fine. My job is to help a person bring their manuscript into the world in a way that makes them feel safe, comfortable, and acknowledged. I don’t expect recognition in any other way, it’s just part of the job (a job I’m very lucky to have).

For any questions about copyrights, intellectual property, or the ethics of ‘stealing’ ideas, please do reach out and I’ll do my very best to answer them.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules x



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