Avoiding Ghost Writer Disputes

Author: Derek S. Underwood, Esq.

Clients frequently want to collaborate with a writer who will bring their ideas to life on the printed page. However, working with a ghost writer can be problematic without strong contract terms.

Often, an author and a ghost writer will undertake a collaboration as a lark, or a long shot, with neither party predicting success with any certainty. Regardless of whether the ghost writer is a friend or not, a written agreement is imperative before any substantial work on the project is underway. If the project is completed and is successful in the marketplace, resentment can motivate ghost writers to reinterpret themselves as official co-authors, or to seek a portion of the profit far beyond what the parties may have originally intended. Likewise, a decisive written contract can also protect a ghost writer from the author’s motivation to seek more profits. As with any enterprise, success can breed animosity amongst collaborators.

Issues of compensation, copyright, public authorship, licensing, publishing, jurisdiction, and alternative media rights need to be very specific and set in writing. In addition, both parties should consider retaining separate legal counsel to guard against future attacks on the contract.

The best way to protect against future disputes between collaborators is to work with your attorney to draft and execute a binding legal contract between the parties for each project that is undertaken. If collaborators respect each other, they should have no reason to fear a written legal contract. A handshake goes a long way - but not always in the wake of commercial success.

About the Author
Derek S. Underwood, Esq. is an attorney with Colman & Underwood.