Is academic ghostwriting legal?

Legal questions about academic ghostwriting
Some students come in the course of their studies in the situation, their term paper or thesis for temporal, personal or content-related reasons to be able to finish. Maybe they can not find a start because of motivation problems.

Why turn a ghostwriter on?

The reasons why you hire a ghostwriter are varied and individual. These may be shortages of time due to the difficult compatibility of work and study, but also the fact that some students may be overwhelmed with the respective topic or scientific writing in general. An ethical-moral assessment is therefore not so simple and clear as it may seem at first glance.

Have a bachelor thesis written?

Once they have decided to start working with a professional ghostwriter, the legal question quickly arises: is ghostwriting or the assignment of a ghostwriter legal? Is it possible to have your homework, a bachelor’s thesis or a master’s thesis written by a ghostwriter and then submit as his own?

The simple answer is: no, that is of course not possible. Anyone who spends a foreign work as his own performance falsifies an exam and deliberately commits a deception. Legally, this can be justified with § 156 StGB (false insurance in place of oath). With his sworn statement, which is usually part of written examinations, the graduate assures that the submitted work is his own intellectual property – which in this sense already fulfills the facts of a written lie (§ 267 StGB, document forgery).

So everything seems to be clear, right? A more sophisticated answer, however, is no, it depends on what is allowed and what is forbidden.

This is exactly what the Higher Regional Court Frankfurt (Az: 11 U 51/08) clearly stated in its basic judgment of 01.09.2009, in which the legality of the academic ghostwriting was also the subject.

In the process it was actually about the agreements made between ghostwriter and client, namely, that committed the author (ghostwriter) to conceal his own authorship. The client was allowed to publish the work as his own. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court found that such an agreement was in principle not objectionable.

Furthermore, it was found that the issue of legality can not depend on the area in which the ghostwriting activity is used. Rather, ghostwriting itself should be considered a service. This also applies to academic ghostwriting. Thereafter, the preparation of preliminary studies, exposés or templates for scientific work is just as legal as the writing of textbooks, speeches or similar. The ghostwriter himself does not act unlawfully.


Similarly, most ghostwriting agencies argue that the signed document (in this case the affidavit) is signed by the very person who makes it and prints it, i. E. the student who does the work. Thus, the document itself is not considered as fake – as long as the client of the ghostwriting the commissioned scientific text actually only as a template and does not submit this in the form received. The finished scientific work is thus a legal sample whose use is the responsibility of the client.

Thus, the ball is again at the client, i. for the student who addresses and commissions an academic ghostwriter. It just depends on how he deals with the commissioned text. As long as the client actually uses the text only as a template and “inspiration” for his own scientific work, as long as he is on the safe side. However, if you pay a lot of money just for a template, this question is left undecided.

Regardless of such legal subtleties, it actually remains difficult to answer when the support of a professional academic service provider legally gets into the gray area. Unproblematic are undoubtedly individual services such as a copy-editing, specific references in the literature search, instructions for structuring the work or even an accompanying academic coaching, much as a good tutor at the university could or should afford. It is more difficult when commissioning the writing activity itself and the use of the commissioned text. Here again, however, the already presented legal argumentation.

Conclusion to the academic Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is neither unlawful nor punishable and the commissioning of a ghostwriter is not. And for many customers an important opportunity to successfully complete their studies despite a difficult personal situation – provided that they have made a good choice in choosing their ghostwriter. Otherwise, there is a risk of receiving a worthless master sample, which may have cost money, but otherwise can not be used by the client and, moreover, carries the risk of plagiarism.

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