Can a Ghostwriter Be Sued for Libel or Invasion of Privacy?

Can a Ghostwriter Be Sued for Libel or Invasion of Privacy?

Q –

A woman wants me to ghostwrite a book about her abusive childhood? This makes me nervous. Could I be sued?

– G.A.

A –

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for your specific legal needs.

That said…

While it’s unlikely the people featured in the book would sue you, they could. Anybody can sue anybody for anything. Even if you won, the legal fees alone could bankrupt you. Furthermore, if your communications with the author were all via phone calls, and with no written contract or “acceptance” of your work or, God forbid, you had a hard drive crash and you lost all written communications with the author, she herself could also sue you if she was threatened with a lawsuit, claiming they were your words, not hers.

Many new freelancers who assist authors with their books don’t understand the legal implications of publishing books of this nature. While I agree that victims should have the right to share their stories, many are so angry about their past that they don’t care about potential libel or invasion of privacy. They have an ax to grind and, gosh darn it, they’re going to grind that ax no matter what the future legal liability may be. Some authors have no money at all and know that, even if they are sued, there will never be any money to collect. But, they are happy to pass the liability on to someone else if they can.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There’s no shortage of slimy lawyers willing to file frivolous lawsuits, hoping for a quick settlement in the end. Some new freelancers who work with authors don’t even use contracts! Yes, it’s true!

If all of your communications this author were by phone, she could simply say that you wrote that material. She could also claim, absent any written agreement or approval, that she never saw it before it went to print.

This is why it’s imperative to:

1. Always have a binding contract (written by an attorney) with the author, which states the author is legally liable for all content in the book.

2. Always obtain legal releases (also written by an attorney!) from living persons appearing in the book (even if their names aren’t used). A sample general release appears in THIS ARTICLE.

Even if you do all of this, you could still find yourself party to a lawsuit.

An author recently contacted us, wanting to publish a book about her abusive childhood. There was one very prominent figure in the story that the author claimed knew about the book. She said the person was even “very proud” of her for writing the book. However, that person was NOT portrayed in a positive light. I asked her to have that person signed a notarized release.

The author became downright belligerent, and even accused me of running scam (Huh??), and threatened to post negative reviews about us online. It became instantly obvious that the author was lying about that person agreeing to be featured in book. If I had a nickel for every time someone pulled the “scam” card, and threatened to post false negative reviews about us online when trying to get their way, I’d be a very wealthy woman.


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One Response to "Can a Ghostwriter Be Sued for Libel or Invasion of Privacy?"

  1. jedidiah manowitz  September 20, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    In the USA anybody can sue anybody else. If you are not prepared to fight them in court with all the attorney fees then don’t do anything that would upset the potential plaintiff.

    A contract sticking your client with all your legal fees surrounding his work is prudent. As is having E&O insurance. Make the client pay the premiums for the insurance.