Moral rights

For inalienable rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of a particular society or polity, see natural rights.

Moral rights are rights of creators of copyrighted works generally recognized in civil law jurisdictions and, to a lesser extent, in some common law jurisdictions. They include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work.[1] The preserving of the integrity of the work bars the work from alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Anything else that may detract from the artist's relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist's possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play. Moral rights are distinct from any economic rights tied to copyrights. Even if an artist has assigned his or her copyright rights to a work to a third party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work.[2]

Moral rights were first recognized in France and Germany,[3] before they were included in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1928.[4]:37 Canada recognizes moral rights (droits moraux) in its Copyright Act (Loi sur le droit d'auteur).[5] The United States became a signatory to the convention in 1989,[6] and incorporated a version of moral rights under its copyright law under Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

Some jurisdictions allow for the waiver of moral rights.[4]:44-45 In the United States, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) recognizes moral rights, but applies only to a narrow subset of works of visual art.[7]

Some jurisdictions like Austria differentiate between narrow and wide moral rights. Whilst the former is about integrity of the work, the latter limits usages, which may harm the author's integrity. Some copyright timestamp services allow to publish (not) allowed usage intentions of the author to prevent a violation of such wider moral rights.[8]

Berne Convention

Article 6bis of the Berne Convention protects attribution and integrity, stating:

Independent of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work, which would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation.[9]

Worldwide situation



This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Countries and areas Terms of moral rights References
Albania ∞ forever

= economic rights (works copyrighted based on publication and creation dates)

Arts. 4, 17-21, Law no. 7564 of 19 April 1992, as modified by Law no. 7923 of 19 May 1995
Algeria ∞ inalienable, cannot be waived Art. 21, Ordinance No. 03-05 on Copyright and Related Rights (19 Joumada El Oula 1424 corresponding to July 19, 2003)
Andorra = economic rights Arts. 6, 18 Law on Copyright and Related Rights of 1999
Angola ∞ inalienable Art. 18, Law on Author's Rights (No. 4/90 of 10 March 1990)
Antigua and Barbuda = economic rights s. 18, Copyright Act, 2002
Armenia ∞ unlimited Art. 12, Law on Copyright and Related Rights of June 15, 2006
Austria Life + 70 years §§19-21 UrhG
Australia (including external territories) = economic rights[10] s. 195AM, Copyright Act 1968
Azerbaijan ∞ unlimited Arts. 14, 27, Law on Copyright and Related Rights of 5 June 1996
Barbados = economic rights

Life + 20 calendar years (rights against false attribution)

s. 18(1), 18(2), Copyright, Act, 05/03/1998, No. 4
Belarus ∞ unlimited Art. 15,
Belgium ∞ inalienable Arts. 1(2), 7, Law on Copyright and Neighboring Rights (of June 30, 1994, as amended by the Law of April 3, 1995)
Canada = economic rights, may be waived Arts. 14.1, 14.2, Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42)
China ∞ perpetual and retroactive Arts. 10, 20, Copyright Law of the People's Republic of China
Denmark = Life of author + 70 calendar years (∞ unlimited if the use of the work infringes cultural interests) Section 63(1), 75, The Consolidated Act on Copyright 2010. Consolidation Act No. 202 of 02.27.2010
Ghana ∞ perpetual Arts. 6, 18, Copyright Act, 2005, No. 690
Egypt ∞ permanent, imprescriptible, and nonassignable Art. 143, Law No. 82 of 2002 Pertaining to the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, Copyrights and Neighboring Rights
France ∞ perpetual, inalienable, and imprescriptible Art. L121-1, Intellectual Property Code
Hong Kong = economic, cannot be waived, must be asserted s. 89-114, Copyright Ordinance, Chapter 528, Division IV
Macao ∞ perpetual, inalienable, and imprescriptible Arts. 7(d), 41, Decree-Law n.o 43/99/M of August 16, 1999
Macedonia ∞ unlimited Arts. 61(2), 75, Author's right and related rights, Act, 31/08/2010, No. 115
Moldova ∞ inalienable, assumed by heirs Art. 9,
Oman ∞ perpetual, inalienable, and nonassignable Art. 5 The Law For the Protection of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights, Royal Decree 65/2008
South Africa = economic, can be waived, non-assignable Art. 20 Copyright Act No.98 of 1978
United Kingdom = economic, can be waived, must be asserted Arts. 77-89, Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (C. 48), Chapter IV

In Europe

In most of Europe, it is not possible for authors to assign or even waive their moral rights. This is following a tradition in European copyright itself, which is not regarded as an item of property which can be sold, but only licensed. Parties certainly can agree not to enforce them (and such terms are very common in contracts in Europe). There may also be a requirement for the author to 'assert' these moral rights before they can be enforced. In many books, for example, this is done on a page near the beginning, in and amongst the British Library/Library of Congress data.[11]

In Canada

Section 14.1 of Canada's Copyright Act protects the moral rights of authors.[12] The moral rights cannot be assigned, but can be waived contractually. Many publishing contracts in Canada now contain a standard moral right waiver.

Moral rights in Canada were famously exercised in the case of Snow v. The Eaton Centre Ltd.[13] In this case Toronto Eaton Centre, a large shopping mall, had commissioned the artist Michael Snow for a sculpture of Canada Geese. Snow successfully stopped Eaton's from decorating the geese with bows at Christmas.

In China

Article 20 of the Copyright Law of the People's Republic of China (1990) provides unlimited term of protection of the rights of authorship, alteration, and integrity of an author. As Article 55 of the same Law provides retroactive protection of unexpired term on the date of entry into force of this Law, the Chinese perpetual moral rights are retroactive as well. The 2001 version retains this provision and the original Article 55 becomes Article 59.

In Ghana

Art. 18, Copyright Act, 2005 provides perpetual moral rights. The moral rights in Art. 6 are for proper attribution and against any distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work where that act would be or is prejudicial to the reputation of the author or where the work is discredited by the act.

In Hong Kong

Moral Rights is specified under Copyright Ordinance (Chapter 528) Division IV, starting from section 89.[14] Author of computer program does not have Moral Rights (section 91). Moral Rights cannot be transferred unless on the death of moral rights holder (section 105 and 106).

In Macao

Article 41 of the Decree-Law_n.o_43/99/M provides inalienable, unrenounceable and imprescriptible author’s personal rights.

In Taiwan

In Taiwan, the Copyright Act has provided authors' perpetual moral rights with regard of attribution and protection against alteration in bad faith, even if the works are in the public domain, as follows:

In the United States

Moral rights[15] have had a less robust tradition in the United States. Copyright law in the United States emphasizes protection of financial reward over protection of creative attribution.[4]:xiii The exclusive rights tradition in the United States is inconsistent with the notion of moral rights as it was constituted in the Civil Code tradition stemming from post-Revolutionary France. When the United States acceded to the Berne Convention, it stipulated that the Convention's "moral rights" provisions were addressed sufficiently by other statutes, such as laws covering slander and libel.[4]:30

Some individual states have moral rights laws, particularly pertaining to visual art and artists (See, e.g. California Art Preservation Act, Artists Authorship Rights Act (New York)). However it is unclear if these laws, or portions thereof, are preempted by federal laws, such as the Visual Artists Rights Act.

The Monty Python comedy troupe made a claim of "mutilation" (akin to a moral rights claim) in 1975 in legal proceedings against American TV network ABC for airing re-edited versions of Monty Python's Flying Circus.[16] However, the case was primarily decided on the basis of whether the BBC was licensed in such a way as to allow ABC to edit the videos (paragraph 20). Main article: Gilliam v. American Broadcasting.

Visual Artists Rights Act

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) recognizes moral rights, but only as they apply to listed works of visual art. The VARA is part of the U.S. Copyright Code (Title 17 of the United States Code). VARA was ruled to not protect against disparaging Internet uses of listed works of visual art in Neeley v NameMedia inc et al., in docket 267[17] of (5:09-cv-05151)(11-2558)

VARA gives qualifying authors the following rights:

These rights, however, are limited by fair use, per 17 U.S. Code § 106A.

Adaptation right

Copyright holders have the right to control adaptations, or the preparation of "derivative works". This right is given under copyright law. See 17 U.S.C. § 106.

Lanham Act

Section 43 of the Lanham Act governs false and misleading advertising, and can apply in some instances to attribution of protected works. However, it cannot be used to create moral rights for works outside of the Act. See Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox.

Courtesy of non-attribution

Authors may choose to use a pseudonym to disclaim authorship of a particular work. One such pseudonym was Alan Smithee, a name used between 1968 and 1999 by discontented Hollywood film directors who no longer wanted to be credited. In case the work is unfinished, the use of a pseudonym may be considered an approval from the original author so the copyright owner could do whatever it takes to finish and market the unwanted work.

The director of Highlander II, Russell Mulcahy, wanted his name removed after the completion bond company took over film production, but he was contractually obliged not to impugn the film and he was told that using a pseudonym would impugn it.

See also


  1. "moral, adj.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. 25 October 2011.
  2. Sundara Rajan, Mira T. (2006). Copyright and Creative Freedom: A Study of Post-Socialist Law Reform. Routledge Studies in International Law. Taylor & Francis. p. 41-42. ISBN 978-0-20396-776-8.
  3. Rigamonti, Cyrill P. (Summer 2006). "Deconstructing Moral Rights". Harvard International Law Journal. 47 (2): 353-412.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Kwall, Roberta Rosenthal (2010) The Soul of Creativity: Forging a Moral Rights Law for the United States, Stanford University Press ISBN 978-0-80475-643-3
  5. Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42)
  6. Countries
  7. Gassaway, Laura (December 2002) "Copyright and moral rights", Information Outlook, Vol. 6, No. 12, p. 40 (Copyright Corner)
  8. FAQ
  9. , Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, September 9, 1886, art. 6bis, S. Treaty Doc. No. 27, 99th Cong., 2d Sess. 41 (1986).
  10. s. 195AM(1) provides: "An author's right of integrity of authorship in respect of a cinematograph film continues in force until the author dies."
  11. Hoppe-Jänisch, Daniel (19 May 2015), IP Assignment Clauses in International Employment Contracts, London: Lexology, p. 9, retrieved 3 Aug 2015, European copyright systems provide for a stronger connection between the copyright and the author of the protected work. This makes sense if one considers that even though the German Urheberrecht or the French droit d’auteur are often translated as copyright, the literal translation is author’s right. It comprises not only proprietary rights but also moral rights. In many European jurisdictions, only the proprietary rights are assignable; in others, copyrights, including the proprietary rights, cannot be assigned at all but authors may only grant others a license to exploit the protected work. Moral rights are usually not assignable and can be waived only to a limited extent.
  12. Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42)
  13. Snow v. The Eaton Centre Ltd. (1982) 70 C.P.R. (2d) 105
  14. Please visit Hongkong legislation website for specified ordinance sections
  15. "United States Copyright Office".
  16. Monty Python, v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., 538 F.2d 14 (2d Cir 1976)
  17. Neeley v NameMedia inc et al., Dkt.267
  18. Gassaway, Laura (December 2002) "Copyright and moral rights", Information Outlook, Vol. 6, No. 12 , pp. 40-41 (Copyright Corner)

Further reading

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