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Moral rights

Moral rights that aspect of copyright that is generally recognized in civil law jurisdictions and first recognized in France and Canada under the Berne Convention. While the United States became a signatory to the convention in 1988 it still does not completely recognize the moral rights component of copyright. Those jurisdictions that recognize the non-economic rights aspects of copyright are often called droit d'auteur states, which literally means right of the author, developing out of the author's rights movement in France whose early leader was the author Victor Hugo. This movement lead to the establishment of the Berne Convention which incorporates moral rights.

Moral rights include the right to attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudononymously, and the right to the integrity of the work (i.e. it cannot be excerpted, distorted or otherwise mutilated). 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 copyright, thus even if an artist has assigned her rights to a work to a third party she may still maintain the moral rights to the work. Most jurisdictions allow for the waiver of moral rights. In the United States the Visual Artists Rights Act[?] of 1990 (VARA) recognizes moral rights but only applies to works of visual arts and sculpture, generally such moral rights are not recognized in text based works.

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

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.

— 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).

Moral rights and visual artists in the United States

In the case of Carter v. Helmsley-Spear Inc. 861 F. Supp. 303 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) it was held that the removal of a sculptural work incorporated in the lobby of an office building would violate the rights of the artists under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 stating, inter alia, "that the author of a work of visual art has the right to prevent intentional alteration of the work that would prejudice the artist's honor or reputation, and to prevent destruction of a work of recognized stature." While this case was ultimately overturned on appeal because it was held that the sculptural work was a work made for hire (71 F.3d 77, 80 (2d Cir. 1995), cert. denied 116 S. Ct. 1824 (1996)), it was the first case t intepret VARA provisions applying to visual artworks.



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