Entertainment attourney Christopher Schiller touches on the legal concept of moral rights and how they should play in your legal contracts.
Above and separate from the economic rights, (the biggest and most recognizable of these being Copyright) these rights attempt to make certain that the reputation of the creator is correctly tied to the works, and that the work properly reflects and falls within the expected reputation of that creator. This is why I have attempted to address these issues in my own dealings using the less politically charged and broadly applying term Reputational Rights for this idea. (Please feel free to use this term in your own dealings.)
International treaties abound with the concept. The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne) and the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) all have clauses addressing Moral Rights. And the US is a signatory to each of these treaties. So there should be plenty of Federal laws on the books stipulating these rights, right?
It depends… on how you look. Directly the evidence is not good. Apart from an extremely limited and poorly interpreted when applied set aside of rights for visual artists (the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA) there is not one clause asserting Moral Rights for US works. But the treaties require it, don’t they?
When challenged, the courts eventually determined that no more laws needed to be written. That US laws already covered the countries treaty obligations. So industrious legal minds went looking. Initially it was thought that a trademark type law, the Lanham Act would provide those protections. It was promising until a judged decided, in a Monty Python involved case, that the use of that law was improper for issues relating to the subject matter of copyright. If you wanted those rights, an addendum to the copyright laws was needed.
No existing, suitable alternative has been found. So, the courts say no new law is needed and there’s nothing available until a new law is passed. No wonder attorneys get a little skittish about the subject.
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