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Moral rights

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General Edit

Countries that follow the civil law tradition regard authors’ rights as natural human rights, or part of one’s right of personality and reputation. As a part of this tradition, in addition to the protection of the author's economic rights, the protection of the author's moral rights (also droit morale or droits d’auteur) is an essential part of the system.

The term "moral rights" is taken from the French phrase droit moral and generally refers to certain noneconomic rights that are considered personal to an author. Moral rights are intended to protect an author's name, reputation, and work. The author of a work has the right to be identified whenever the work is:

The author also has the right to object to derogatory treatment of his/her work (any addition to, deletion from or alteration to or adaptation of the work) which amounts to its distortion or mutilation, or is otherwise prejudicial to the honor or reputation of the author. Also under moral rights is a person's right not to have a work falsely attributed to him/her as author.[1]

Often, in civil law systems, moral rights reflect a part of the author's personality and reputation and are non-transferable, and may be not waivable. Economic rights, in some instances, may be subordinated to moral rights.

As noted in Article 6bis of the Berne Convention:

Independently 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, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.

United States Edit

The controversy over moral rights was one of the reasons that kept the United States out of the Berne Convention for over a century. However, during that time the U.S. legal regime evolved and when the United States finally joined the Berne Convention, Congress determined that no changes to U.S. law were necessary to comply with the moral rights provisions of Article 6bis (quoted above).

Congress found that the existing panoply of remedies available under U.S. common law, state trademark and unfair competition, moral rights and defamation law. and federal laws (including the federal Trademark Act (Lanham Act)[2] provided sufficient moral rights protection. These findings were explicitly stated in the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988.[3] When Congress was convinced that enhanced protection for moral rights was necessary, legislation was passed.[4]

U.S. Copyright Office Public Study on Moral Rights Edit

The U.S. Copyright Office is undertaking a public study on moral rights for authors, specifically the rights of attribution and integrity.[5] The study will review how existing U.S. law, including provisions found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code and other federal and state laws, protects the moral rights of attribution and integrity and whether any additional protection is advisable in this area.


  1. Article 6bis of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
  2. Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act creates a federal law of unfair competition, part of which prohibits inaccurate descriptions of goods and their origin. See, e.g., Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Cos., 538 F.2d 14, 192 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 1 (2d Cir. 1976) (full-text) (editing a television program by someone other than its creator so fundamentally changed the nature of the original work that it was a misdescription of origin to continue to exhibit the edited work with the author's name on it); Smith v. Montoro, 648 F.2d 602, 211 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 775 (9th Cir. 1981) (full-text) (misattribution of credit on a motion picture is actionable under Section 43(a)).
  3. See Act of October 31, 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-568, 1988 U.S.C.C.A.N. (102 Stat.) 2853.
  4. See Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-650, 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. (104 Stat.) 5128 (gave the author of a work of visual art certain rights of attribution and integrity).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Study on the Moral Rights of Attribution and Integrity, Notice of Inquiry (Jan. 23, 2017) (full-text).

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