What is ghostwriting 1

Ghostwriting during your studies: you have to know that!

by Bernadette Seiler

Everything has to be done by yourself!

Ghostwriting is not an invention of the modern age, but was already a common process in antiquity. Someone writes a text that someone else declares to be his intellectual product. But since the fall of Ex-Doctor zu Guttenberg at the latest, we as students have been asking ourselves more and more the question of what kind of thin legal ice we are walking on.

The third-party writing of meaningful texts that can either be read as a statement or heard as a speech has long been known from many areas of politics.

However, in recent years, more and more cases have come to light in which graduates have had their thesis written and put their own name as an author under it - of course with a corresponding affidavit.

But where exactly is the problem now?


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Deception and forgery

Anyone who claims someone else's work as their own performance falsifies an examination performance and deliberately deceives their university.

That’s clear so far. But what does that look like legally?

The first problem, according to § 156 StGB, can already be the false affirmation in lieu of oath. With this declaration, the graduate assures that the submitted work is his own intellectual property - which in this sense already constitutes a written lie (see § 267 StGB).

Such an attempt at deception can also be regarded as a forgery of documents. Background: A certificate is given if a specific and embodied statement of thought that is suitable as evidence reveals its issuer. College work serves exactly this purpose. A document is forged if the "wrong issuer" can be identified.

Cheating on your thesis means attempting to deceive and forging documents.

But the matter doesn't seem to be that clear after all.

Many ghostwriting agencies argue that the signed certificate (in this case the affidavit) is signed by the very person who made and printed it out: the student who submitted the work written by others. Thus, the document is not in itself deemed to be forged.

So the whole thing leaves room for interpretation.


Infringement of Copyright

Let's take a look at copyright law.

The person who creates something new, or writes it in this sense, is the author according to the principle of creation (see § 7 UrhG). According to § 2 Paragraph 1 No. 1 UrhG, a written product is one of the works that can be protected by copyright.

The Can is the crucial point in this case.

In order to determine to what extent the present text is a written novelty, the so-called height of creation is questioned. Among other things, the content, the form, the linguistic design, etc. are taken into account.

This, too, has to be checked and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Key question: Who is the author of the text?

In addition, attention should be paid to how the rights of use for the respective text are regulated. In the most common case, the ghostwriter assigns the right to use his work so that the text can be used by the contractual partner without restrictions.

However, restrictions on usage rights are also possible. If in doubt, better check the terms of use again!


Violation of the examination and doctoral regulations

But what do the universities actually say about this?

In general, a written work at the end of the course or at the end of the doctoral period should show what the future graduate has learned as part of the academic training.

The thesis should show that you are able to work on a problem independently within a given period of time using scientific methods.

Accordingly, the work must be written by the graduate himself. And so it is written down in every examination regulation.

If you let someone else write this thesis, you are undoubtedly violating the examination regulations. A proven deception often leads to an evaluation of the work with 5.0 and, in the worst case, to de-registration.



At some point everything will come to light.

Third-party work that you claim to be your intellectual property is no exception.

If it is discovered that you did not write your thesis yourself, at least the scientific title obtained with the thesis will be withdrawn from you. Furthermore, all titles acquired up to this point can be withdrawn - regardless of whether or not you have used outside help.

If you hire a ghostwriter to write a term paper rather than your thesis and "get caught", you will also have to expect your previous title to be withdrawn and you will be removed from the university immediately.

Universities don't have fun at this point!

The extent to which you may face further legal consequences due to the above-mentioned facts must be checked on a case-by-case basis and also depends on the university. You may face additional civil, criminal and labor law consequences.


Ghostwriting completely legal: that's how it's done!

Don't be surprised: ghostwriting in itself is not illegal, on the contrary!

Ghostwriting is a completely normal service in which an order writer creates a text for you. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself.

This is due to the fact that the rights of use to the manufactured product are assigned to the client within the concluded contract. Accordingly, it is perfectly legal to use what has been purchased from you.

For example, if you only use the work of a ghostwriter as a "source of inspiration" and this only serves as a suggestion for your own work, you will not make a mistake.

You only cross a limit if you affidavit that you are the author of the respective document and misuse it to obtain a title.

Of course, you can also hire a ghostwriter to create other documents for you that have nothing to do with an exam.

This includes, for example, application documents or letters of motivation. At this point there is neither a forgery nor a false affidavit, as the information for the documents is provided by yourself.

In addition, you have to personally take all "exams" (job interview, assessment center, etc.) in the application process. Corresponding professional service providers will also have stated in the terms and conditions that you may use the documents at your own discretion and accordingly assign the rights of use to you.


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Ghostwriters are not the "Jack the Ripper" of your academic career. They can even help you with your work, for example if the lecturer raises you about a topic that you really have no idea about and need inspiration.

But: Always remember that the services of ghostwriters for exam situations can only and exclusively serve as inspiration.

Under no circumstances may you adorn yourself with someone else's feathers and pretend someone else's intellectual property is your own achievement. With that you would risk a lot and put your hard-earned university degree at risk.

And it's not worth it, is it?


Image: © Ryan McGuire / gratisography.com