Do Ghostwriters Own Copyright?

I am often asked by prospective clients about how the copyright works when you’re using a ghostwriter.

As a quick refresher on copyright, it usually works like this: if you are the creator of a book, I.E. the person who came up with the idea, wrote the actual words in the book, and then finished it, then you are the copyright holder. Actually, this is true even before the book is finished, and even when you just have an idea – so long as you have documented publicly that you have had the idea.

(Incidentally, this is one of the biggest reasons why ‘writers’ using AI are facing very uncertain times ahead: when something was written by a machine, it’s not clear whether the copyright resides with a) the person who claimed authorship and published it, b) the person who coded the AI text generator, or c) the person or persons whose work was fed into the code in the first place. This uncertainty could lead to a lot of heartbreak for authors who thought they were getting a shortcut to a bestselling novel, only to discover that they aren’t legally entitled to the proceeds at all. But, I digress).

In the US and some other countries, it’s possible to register your copyright. However, this is not actually necessary to establish legal ownership of the work in most cases. That happens as soon as the work is created.

When you work with a ghostwriter, you should be able to ascertain immediately from your contract who the copyright holder will be when the work is done. This is, almost always, going to be you – the client. If this is not the case, you certainly need to have a talk with your ghostwriter about why, because it is not the usual way of doing business.

Ghostwriters work under the terms of ‘work for hire’. What this means is that we have been hired by a client to do the work, and the work will belong to the client when it is done. It’s just like how someone, let’s call them Greg, could be employed in a factory making bread to be packaged up and sent out to consumers: after Greg makes that loaf of bread or oversee the machine that makes it, Greg doesn’t own the loaf. Greg’s employer does, and they have the right to sell it on. Greg won’t make any profit from the sale. He is just paid for his shift in the factory – his work.

Once the book is written and finished as per the terms of the contract, and once you have paid the balance of any monies owed for the work, you are the copyright holder. It’s as simple as that!

Ghostwriters also give up their right to be identified as the author of the work, which is another important factor when it comes to royalties and future deals you may have – with publishers, distributors, or production companies.

If you’d like to discuss how I can write a book for you, I’d be happy to hear from you – I can even show  you a sample contract if you’re worried about your legal rights. Let’s set up a call – or you can send me an email if you prefer.

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