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Copyrightlaws.com Sheds Light on Moral Rights in the United States

Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 16, 2017

Copyrightlaws.com logoIn light of the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Moral Rights, Copyrightlaws.com has done us all a favor in posting their article, “Moral Rights in US Copyright Law.” The NOI is revisiting creators’ rights, which, in the United States, are little understood. In this context, “moral rights” has little to do with religion, but refers to non-economic rights that are personal to an author. The Copyrightlaws.com article provides an easy-to-understand explanation and background information on the topic.

The article describes moral rights as those that protect the reputation of the author (not the owner) of a copyrighted work. As set out in the Berne convention, those rights include the right of paternity (the right of the author to put their name on a work, or to remain anonymous – generally when the author has economic rights in the work) and the right of integrity (the right of the author to object to any changes to their work that may damage his or her reputation).  

When the United States joined the Berne Convention, it interpreted moral rights more narrowly and concluded that between federal and state laws, moral rights are explicitly protected in the US. Additionally, the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990 amended US Copyright Law to conferr additional rights (the right of attribution and the right of integrity) to the authors of certain visual works. However, those works can only exist as single copies or in limited editions of 200 or less.

The Copyright Office’s NOI asks for comments on concerns raised “with the patchwork of protection” provided by federal and state law. The questions in the NOI are extensive, and cover everything from the effectiveness of VARA, whether copyright law provisions on content management information are sufficient, and how stronger moral rights provisions could affect First Amendment rights, to how technology could address the problems authors face in protecting their rights of attribution and integrity. Comments to the Copyright Office are due March 30th.

Copyrightlaws.com publishes articles and resources on US and Canadian copyright law, and conducts etutorials on intellectual property rights. It was founded by IP attorney Lesley Ellen Harris, who has written several books on Canadian copyright law and digital property. Harris also frequently blogs on current copyright concerns.

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