Ramblings & ephemera

A short explanation of moral rights in IP

From Betsy Rosenblatt’s “Moral Rights Basics“:

The term “moral rights” is a translation of the French term “droit moral,” and refers … to the ability of authors to control the eventual fate of their works. An author is said to have the “moral right” to control her work. … Moral rights protect the personal and reputational, rather than purely monetary, value of a work to its creator.

The scope of a creator’s moral rights is unclear, and differs with cultural conceptions of authorship and ownership, but may include the creator’s right to receive or decline credit for her work, to prevent her work from being altered without her permission, to control who owns the work, to dictate whether and in what way the work is displayed, and/or to receive resale royalties. Under American Law, moral rights receive protection through judicial interpretation of several copyright, trademark, privacy, and defamation statues, and through 17 U.S.C. §106A, known as the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA). VARA applies exclusively to visual art. In Europe and elsewhere, moral rights are more broadly protected by ordinary copyright law.

In the United States, the term “moral rights” typically refers to the right of an author to prevent revision, alteration, or distortion of her work, regardless of who owns the work. Moral rights as outlined in VARA also allow an author of a visual work to avoid being associated with works that are not entirely her own, and to prevent the defacement of her works. …

Under VARA, moral rights automatically vest in the author of a “work of visual art.” For the purposes of VARA, visual art includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs, existing in a single copy or a limited edition of 200 signed and numbered copies or fewer. In order to be protected, a photograph must have been taken for exhibition purposes only. VARA only protects works of “recognized stature;” posters, maps, globes, motion pictures, electronic publications, and applied art are among the categories of visual works explicitly excluded from VARA protection. …

Moral rights are not transferrable, and end only with the life of the author. Even if the author has conveyed away a work or her copyright in it, she retains the moral rghts to the work under VARA. Authors may, however, waive their moral rights if do so in writing.

What constitutes infringement of moral rights?

VARA grants two rights to authors of visual works: the right of attribution, and the right of integrity. The right of attribution allows an author to prevent misattribution of a work, and to require that the authorship of the work not be disclosed (i.e. remain anonymous). The right of integrity bars intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of a work if that distortion is likely to harm the author’s reputation, and prevents the destruction of any work of recognized stature.

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