Ghostwriting Ethics Gut Check

As part of the Your Turn Challenge, a 7-day blogging challenge inspired by the Your Turn book by Seth Godin, I’ve been writing – or shipping as Seth would say. His endeavor is powered by readers (who are now writers). Below is the Day 2 Challenge for me – where I open up about realizing that I had been plagiarized, but that I could do little about it because I was just a ghost…

Can ghosts be plagiarized? I was recently editing a blog post for a client when I read a passage and thought, “Hmmmm. That sounds like something I would say.” I paused for a curious moment and then thought, “Wait! I think I DID say that!”

I proceeded to dive into my search field and copied the passage from the blog post. Sure enough, three years ago, I wrote those same words for a different client as a ghostwriter. Those words are available to the world online – written under the pretense of another author. They were now coming back to haunt me. This new client – this person who I enjoyed editing for on an occasional basis – had copied MY words and submitted them as her own. Only they weren’t my words. They were the words of a ghost, sold under contract to a client, owned by that client. That contract also said that I, the ghost, could not acknowledge my involvement in those works. A ghost can’t be plagiarized, can she?

My emotional writer roller coaster took off like a shot. I was protective of my words, bound by strict contracts on both sides, legally responsible to be silent to the truth. Ghosts can’t be plagiarized. Ghostwriters can be caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. It seems inherent to the business. So I wrangled my rhetoric and without compromising legalities, I informed the new client that I thought the writing was lacking and needed some revision. I swallowed my pride and ripped to shreds my previous glory. I revised it so much that it no longer looked like the ghost’s original in any resemblance. And then I politely and swiftly handed in my notice. As ghostwriters sometimes the most challenging ethical dilemma is that ghosts only exist in contracts.

Check out the Your Turn Challenge blog here:


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