Moral Rights Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Moral Rights, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Moral Rights?

An author or artist’s right to have his/her work attributed to himself/herself, and the right to protect the work from alteration.

History and Meaning of Moral Rights

Moral rights refer to the personal rights that belong to the creator of an original artistic, literary or intellectual work, over and above any economic rights he or she may have, as a result of copyright. These rights are usually defined as the right of attribution or credit, and the right to object to derogatory uses and modifications of the work. The moral rights doctrine developed first in continental European countries such as France and Germany, where the personal interests of creators in their work, as distinct from the economic interests of publishers and distributors, was first recognized.

Examples of Moral Rights

  1. A novelist may insist that his/her name appears as the author of any film based on a book that he/she wrote.
  2. A painter, who sold her painting to a buyer, may want to keep a copy of the painting for her own personal use but also reserve the right to prevent the purchaser from reproducing the painting for commercial purposes without her permission.
  3. A composer who has written a popular song may want to demand credit as the composer even when others arrange or adapt the song with their own musical ideas.

Legal Terms Similar to Moral Rights

  1. Copyright: Moral rights are closely related to copyright law principles because they are a form of copyright in themselves.
  2. Paternity Rights: These rights refer to attribution rights.
  3. Droit de Suite: Also known as resale rights, it applies to artists' rights to receive a percentage of the selling price of their works that are re-sold by a dealer or auction house.