Is ghostwriting legal? That is the crucial question. There is still a controversial debate going on about the legal status of academic ghostwriting, despite the fact that it does not take much analysis effort to gain a clear picture in this matter. Those who consider academic ghostwriting legally inadmissible do so mainly based on two assumptions. The first assumption is: “Academic ghostwriting is falsification of documents“, the second one being: “Academic ghostwriting is fraud“. Both assumptions need to be rejected in its general wording. While the former is outright false, the second one is predicated on a specific understanding of academic ghotwriting which cannot be viewed as absolute.
Falsification of documents, according to § 267 StGB (German Criminal Code), occurs if someone, in legal dealings, creates a false document, forges a genuine document, or makes use of a false or forged document. An academic or scientific text qualifies as a document in the sense that it embodies a declaration (about a certain intellectual content), signifies the issuer as guarantor, and exerts an evidential function in legal dealings. If the actual issuer is identical with the person specified as issuer, the document is deemed to be genuine. However, it is important to note in this context that if the person that takes ownership of a document or text, he or she can become issuer as well. That is to say: If someone submits a text written by a ghostwriter to a university or higher-education institution under his or her own name, the person in question is guilty of having committed a written lie, not falsification of a document in the legal sense.
Things are not so clear-cut when it comes to the question as to whether academic ghostwriting can be equated with science fraud. To come closer to the answer to that question, it is helpful to distinguish between two different scenarios. Scenario 1: A person is submitting an academic or a scientific text written by a ghostwriter as his or her own examination performance with the inclusion of an affidavit. This is a clear case of science fraud as the person in question pretends to be someone he or she is not, which is the author of the text submitted. By making a false affidavit, the person’s action is punishable in Germany under § 156 StGB.
With scenario 2, the situation is different: A person is submitting a scientific text, including an affidavit, that has been self-written based on a template authored by a ghostwriter. This scenario does not describe a case of science fraud as the person makes a truthful affidavit in that he or she is the actual author of the work submitted. As long as texts written by ghostwriters are dealt with as sample texts that are used as an inspiration and aid for writing a new text on an independent basis, there can be no question of fraud. After all, there is no major difference between the text written by a ghostwriter and any other academic or scientific text on a given subject area, such as academic texts offered for purchase online (e.g., term paper, Bachelor’s thesis, Master’s thesis, or doctorate thesis). The only difference is that unlike texts that have already been published, detection of an illegal action is much more difficult in the case of commissioned texts. But this alone does not render academic ghostwriting an illegal activity.
Considering the above, the answer to the initial question as to whether academic ghostwriting is legal or illegal is: yes and no. Academic ghostwriting is illegal if the client uses the text produced by a ghostwriter to pretend things that are not true by making a false affidavit. Academic ghostwriting is legal if the contractual right to use the ghostwriter’s text does not coincide with unlawful, illegal actions. Whether or not academic ghostwriting is legally admissible, then, ultimately hinges on how the client deals with the services rendered by a ghostwriter. If one regards academic ghostwriting in the latter sense, it is safe to say that academic ghostwriting is not illegal.
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