Copyright uncovered: What should I know about moral rights?

    Every quarter, our Legal team answers your questions about copyright. This month they explain moral rights which, in addition to copyright, can protect and safeguard artists in a number of ways.

    What should I know about moral rights?

    Moral rights protect your name and reputation

    Moral rights are a bundle of rights belonging to you as an artist. They can protect you in a range of circumstances, for instance, they allow you to ensure your work is not subjected to derogatory treatment affecting your reputation and that you are identified as the creator when your work is being displayed or reproduced in certain ways.
    Moral rights can help protect your work, whether it is being posted online or whether you have been commissioned to create a piece of public art.
    Whereas copyright allows you to control how your work is reproduced and distributed, moral rights protect your name and reputation - so it is important to be aware of them.
    There are four moral rights under UK law:
    • The right to be identified as the creator of your work – known as ‘the Attribution Right’
    • The right to object to derogatory treatment of your work negatively affecting your reputation – known as ‘the Right of Integrity’
    • The right to not be identified as the creator of a work created by someone else – known as ‘The Right to object to False Attribution’
    • The right to not have photographs or films that were commissioned for private and domestic purposes exhibited, broadcast or issued to the public – known as ‘the Right of Privacy in certain photographs and films’
    For the latter two rights, it is worth noting that you don't have to have created anything to benefit from them. Instead, they are more concerned with both managing your reputation and the privacy of those who have commissioned photographs or films.

    The Attribution Right must be asserted

    A particularity of the UK legal system is that the Attribution Right must be ‘asserted’ in order to benefit from it. This therefore requires action on your part to let others know that you wish to take advantage of the right.
    You can assert your right either on the work itself or in a contract by including a statement to the effect of "the artist] hereby asserts his/her right to be identified as the author of [name of work]".
    By including this clause in a licence, it would bind the licensee and anyone who obtains a licensed reproduction of the work.

    Be careful not to waive your moral rights

    Unlike copyright, it is not possible to ‘assign’ or sell your moral rights. It is possible however to ‘waive’ or give up your moral rights, which is inadvisable.

    Make sure you read any contract you are asked to sign carefully, whether for a licence, commission or sale. You should look out for any clause that mentions waiving moral rights.

    Moral rights help to protect your legacy

    Most of the moral rights last your lifetime plus 70 years after death, with the exception of the Right to object to False Attribution, which lasts for 20 years after death.

    As such, moral rights help ensure your name and reputation are remembered in the way you would have wanted.

    More on moral rights coming soon!

    A new factsheet with further information about moral rights will be added to our Knowledge Base soon. 

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    Copyright advice for members

    Are you a Copyright Licensing or Artist’s Resale Right member? Remember to take advantage of our free members' advice service:

    How it works

    We also have lots of useful information about copyright on our website. Browse related pages:

    Copyright uncovered: What to know about contracts
    Knowledge Base

    The content of this article is not intended to apply to individual circumstances. It does not constitute legal advice, it is not a substitute for independent legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

    Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self 1969-72, Keith Arnatt © Keith Arnatt Estate. All rights reserved. DACS 2016. License this image.

    Posted on 16/09/2016 by Laura Ward-Ure