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Cologne court strengthens position of ghostwriters under copyright law – Claims for damages under IP law

News  >  IP law  >  Cologne court strengthens position of ghostwriters under copyright law – Claims for damages under IP law

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Ghostwriters are no less than co-authors of the works they create and as such benefit from copyright protections. Case in point: a ruling of Cologne’s regional court – the Landgericht (LG) Köln – from July 13, 2023 (case ref..: 14 O 237/22).

Intellectual property needs to be consistently protected. This includes enforcing copyright protections for creative works and achievements, notes commercial law firm and IP specialist MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte.

Right to recognition of authorship

Authors are entitled under copyright law to have their authorship recognized. This means that they are entitled to, among other things, be mentioned by name, and they can claim damages in the event of infringements. In a judgment from July 13, 2023, the LG Köln strengthened the position of ghostwriters under copyright law by explicitly extending these rights to them, ruling that contract work is also creative activity that falls under copyright law.

The plaintiff in the case at issue, a professional ghostwriter, had contributed to a book by a psychotherapist that was published under the latter’s name. Neither party disputed that the ghostwriter was responsible for composing the psychotherapist’s stories as a written text, and for her services she received just shy of 12,000 euros as stipulated in their agreement.

Ghostwriter not mentioned by name

However, she would later learn after the book was published that, contrary to their agreement, her name was not mentioned in the imprint. According to her, it had been agreed that she would be mentioned in the imprint with a reference to “editorial advice”. She also claimed that she was supposed to be mentioned in the list of acknowledgements. She therefore asked the psychotherapist to refrain from distributing the book without mentioning her name. While the psychotherapist did issue a cease-and-desist declaration, he did not satisfy any claims for damages.

Based on the assumption that her copyrights had been infringed, the ghostwriter subsequently brought an action before the LG Köln, arguing that she had produced the book with a view to it being a protected work under copyright law. Apart from some minor input from the defendant, the plaintiff claimed that she was the one who wrote the lion’s share of the 200-page book and that she was also the creative and editorial author of the entire work. Since she was not named as the author, she went on to assert claims for damages.

Damages for violating author’s personal rights

Having found the plaintiff’s arguments convincing, the LG Köln ultimately awarded her damages. The court reasoned that the failure to feature her name amounted to a violation of her personal rights as the author. Consequently, she was entitled to damages in the amount of the agreed fee, i.e., just under 12,000 euros.

The LG Köln went on to state that the book was to be regarded as a personal intellectual creation and hence a copyrighted linguistic work. Moreover, the plaintiff ought to be considered no less than a co-author. And as the author, she was entitled to have her authorship of the work recognized in accordance with Section 13 of the German Copyright Act (UrhG). She has the right to determine whether the work should identify her as the author and the manner in which it does so, according to the court.

MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte advises on copyright law, as well as on IP law more broadly.

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