Moral rights are personal rights that can protect your reputation as an artist and the integrity of your artwork. Moral rights apply to artworks that qualify for copyright protection.


Moral rights help protect your artwork in a range of situations, from online use to new commissions. They belong to you, the artist, and remain with you even if you no longer own the copyright to an artwork.
Unlike copyright, moral rights cannot be transferred or ‘assigned’ to someone else during your lifetime, but they can be exercised after death by your beneficiaries and personal representatives.

What are the moral rights?

There are four moral rights under UK law:  
Moral rights in the UK apply to you if you were alive on or after 1 August 1989, irrespective of when the artwork was created.
Except for the Right to Object to False Attribution, moral rights last for the duration of copyright, which in the UK is your lifetime plus 70 years. The Right to Object to False Attribution lasts for your lifetime plus 20 years.

The Right of Attribution

The Right of Attribution is your right to be identified as the creator of an artwork when it is published commercially, exhibited publicly or if an image or film of the artwork is communicated to the public.


Under UK law, the Right of Attribution must be asserted. This requires a positive action to let others know that you wish to exercise the right.
Assertion can take many forms. A common way of doing this is to include a provision in a written document such as a licensing contract. For example, you could insert the following clause:
“{the artist} hereby asserts his/her right to be identified as the creator of {name of the artwork}.”
When exhibiting an artwork in public, you can assert your Right of Attribution by including your name on the original or a copy of the artwork, on a frame or mount, or anything else to which the artwork is attached.
It is advisable to assert the right as soon as possible. If you do not, you may miss the opportunity to be identified as the creator of your artwork.
You only need to assert the right once. The assertion will then bind anyone into whose hands the original or copy of the artwork falls, regardless of whether or not the assertion is visible. For example, you may have asserted the right on the back of a painting and it has been photographed from the front, where the assertion is not visible. Anyone dealing with the photograph is still bound by the Right of Attribution to identify you as the artist.


In certain circumstances, someone using your artwork may not be bound by the Right of Attribution.
An exception to the right exists in cases where the artwork is used:
  • for the purposes of reporting current events;
  • in a periodical publication, such as a newspaper;
  • or in a publication that is a collective work of reference, such as an encyclopaedia, dictionary or yearbook.
There is also an exception for incidental inclusion, for example if an artwork appears in an unplanned way in a film or broadcast. There are further exceptions relating to computer programmes and computer-generated artwork and artworks used in examinations.
The legislation sets out a full list of exceptions to this right.

The Right to Object to Derogatory Treatment

Also known as the ‘Integrity Right’, the Right to Object to Derogatory Treatment aims to protect your reputation as an artist.
The term ‘treatment’ may include additions, deletions, adaptations and other types of manipulation which interfere with the structure or composition to your artwork. However, for this right to be infringed the treatment must also be ‘derogatory’, which means the treatment amounts to a mutilation or distortion of your artwork, or it otherwise negatively impacts your reputation as an artist. To prove someone’s treatment of your artwork is derogatory in this way is subjective and you may need to demonstrate the extent of your reputation. Records such as reviews, quotes or expert opinions of your artwork could be used as evidence.
An infringement can occur when someone who has treated your artwork in a derogatory manner then publishes it commercially, or communicates an image of it to the public. The same exceptions apply, however, as to the Right of Attribution.

The Right to Object to False Attribution

The Right to Object to False Attribution can be exercised by anyone who finds an artwork falsely attributed to themselves. Interestingly, a person does not necessarily have to create anything to benefit from this right. It is particularly relevant if you are identified in an express or implied statement as the creator of an artwork that you did not create - for example, if someone has forged your work.
The right is only violated or infringed, however, when the falsely attributed artwork is exhibited in public or when copies or materials containing an image of it are issued to the public.
A person acting in the course of business, for example an art dealer, will infringe the right if they possess or deal with the artwork with prior knowledge or reason to believe the artwork contains a false attribution.
False attribution does not only apply to a forged artwork. It can also apply to an alteration by someone other than the original artist. If you parted possession with your artwork and a person acting in the course of business knew or had reason to believe that someone else had made changes to it, this would mean the artwork had been falsely attributed to you.
Unlike other moral rights, there are no exceptions to this right and therefore no situations in which the right, once established, does not apply.

The Right of Privacy in Certain Photographs or Films

This right may be exercised by anyone who has commissioned photographs or films for private and domestic purposes and where the resulting photograph or film has copyright protection.
The commissioner has the right not to have copies issued or communicated to the public, including in a broadcast or cable service, or exhibited publicly. Anyone doing these acts infringes the Right of Privacy in the photographs or films. An exception applies if the photograph or film is used incidentally in a broadcast or film, which means it is used in an unplanned way.

What to look for in contracts

Whilst moral rights cannot be assigned, they can be given up or ‘waived’. If you are entering a contract, for example a commission or licence agreement, make sure you look for any mention of waiving your moral rights as this will mean you agree not to enforce them.
Some contracts will grant some form of moral rights back to you, for example by stating that you will be credited as the author of the artwork (similar to the Attribution Right). However, this is a weaker position for you because if in the end you are not credited as the author when the work is used, this would only constitute a breach of contract, rather than an infringement of your moral rights.

Infringement and remedies

If you think that your moral rights have been infringed, it is worthwhile contacting the alleged infringer and insisting that your rights be respected. Under UK law, remedies for infringement of moral rights could include damages, which is a financial reward, or an injunction preventing further infringing uses depending on the circumstances.
If you are a member of our Copyright Licensing or Artist’s Resale Right services and are unsure if an infringement has taken place or would like further advice, you can use our free Copyright Advice Service.

What will happen to my moral rights after I die?

Like copyright, moral rights can be passed down to a beneficiary in your Will, helping to protect your legacy after you die. If you don’t include your moral rights in your Will, they will pass by default to the person who inherits your copyright. The Right of False Attribution can also be enforced by your personal representatives.

Moral rights outside the UK

Moral rights have a different set of rules in other countries, including those in Europe, even though other parts of copyright law may be similar.
In France and Spain for instance, some moral rights are perpetual so they last even longer than the normal term of copyright. Outside of Europe, the approach to moral rights may be in reference to a particular use of an artwork. In Australia for instance, the law covers situations where artworks have been commissioned for public display and gives artists certain rights when the commissioner wants to move the work or take it down.

Disclaimer: This factsheet is offered as a general guide to the issues surrounding moral rights in this area. It does not represent an exhaustive account. It is not intended to offer legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend you seek specialist advice for any specific circumstances.