Many people may not be aware that as the creator of copyrighted material, you not only have exclusive rights to copy or publish your work, but you also have moral rights. The Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 introduced a legal obligation to attribute copyright owners and treat their work with respect. These are the moral rights that every copyright owner enjoys, which this article will outline.

Copyright vs. Moral Rights

Just because you own the copyright does not mean you also have moral rights. Moral rights belong to the creator of the works. In some instances, the creator and the copyright owner are the same person, but this is not always the case. Although copyright and moral rights are very different, they do share some similarities in Australia.

  • They both arise automatically with the creation of works; and
  • They both last for the life of the author, plus 70 years (except in the case of the right of integrity in films, which only lasts for the life of the creator).

What are Moral Rights?

Under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), the creator of copyrighted works has the following moral rights:

  • A right to attribution of authorship;
  • A right not to have authorship falsely attributed; and
  • A right of integrity of authorship.

The Right to Attribution

In simple terms, this is the right to be identified as the author. If your work is being reproduced, published, adapted or exhibited by someone else, it is your right to be attributed to the work. Attribution should always be clear so that it is reasonably identifiable by the audience. For example, scribbling the artist’s name at the bottom of a large painting in tiny handwriting is not correctly attributing the work to the author.

The Right not be Falsely Attributed

This right is divided into two components:

  • The right to object to another person being falsely attributed to the author’s work; and
  • The right to object when the author’s name is applied to work that has originated from the author, but has been subsequently altered by another person.

It may seem questionable why someone would attribute a work to the author after significantly changing it. Why wouldn’t they want to take all the credit? This situation arises where the original author may attract more attention. For example, a young screenwriter who has altered works created by Martin Scorsese may wish to attribute the work to Scorsese for publicity. However, this would be an infringement of Scorsese’s moral rights.

The Right of Integrity

The author must not be subjected to derogatory treatment of his or her work, which would prejudicially affect their honour or reputation. Derogatory treatment includes material distortion, mutilation or a substantial alteration of the work.

Moral Rights vs Personal Rights

It is important to note that moral rights are personal rights. This means that, even as the author, you cannot assign your moral rights. This is different to copyright, which can be assigned or licensed to someone else, with the permission of the creator. For example, an author can assign the copyright in their book to a publisher. However, the author will continue to hold the moral rights in the book.

An author may give consent to another party to infringe some or all of their moral rights. For example, an author of a book may give the publisher permission to publish the book anonymously or under another name.

Key Takeaways

  • Know your rights – as the creator of copyrighted material; you have moral rights
  • Moral rights for life – moral rights cannot be assigned, unlike copyright. You may decide to waive some or all of your moral rights, but this does not mean you are transferring your rights.

If you have any questions about copyright or moral rights, get in touch with our intellectual property lawyers.

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