Many commercial agreements contain a reference to moral rights, but there is a general lack of understanding of what they are and their potential significance.

Moral rights are linked with, but are distinct from, copyright and are set out in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

In summary, the four main rights are:

  • Paternity – The right to be identified as the author or director of a copyright work. (The author has to assert this right).
  • Integrity – The right to object to derogatory treatment of a copyright work.
  • No False Attribution – The right not to suffer false attribution of a copyright work
  • Privacy – The right to privacy in respect of certain films and photographs made for private and domestic purposes

(There are other moral rights relating to performances, but these are likely to be less relevant).

Moral rights apply to literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and films. They do not apply in the case of sound recordings, broadcasts or typographical arrangements.

The rights of paternity, integrity and privacy last for the normal term of copyright, which is the life of the author plus 70 years.  The right to prevent false attribution is limited to 20 years after the death of the author.

Moral rights do not apply in all circumstances or to all types of work.  For example, the rights of identity and integrity do not apply to computer programs and any computer-generated works.

Whilst moral rights are personal rights, they do need to be addressed in any commercial deal.  They can be waived but not assigned.  While it is quite common to have a waiver of moral rights in commercial agreements, there may be good reason why this should be resisted.

For example, a professional who prepares a report on a property may well want his authorship to appear on the report, as a means of marketing his services to the range of people who may see the report. Similarly, he would not want a report that he has not written attributed to him.

The right of integrity may be equally important.  The key term is “derogatory treatment”.  “Treatment” is defined as any addition to, deletion from or alteration to or adaptation of a copyright work (excluding a translation).  The treatment is “derogatory” if it amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author (or director for a film).

Going back to the example of a property related report, if the person for whom the report was prepared changed references to the evidence on which it was based or its conclusions, that would be likely to be derogatory treatment (and could have other legal consequences).

Where you are concerned with non-UK copyright, the position on moral rights will be different and the position should be checked.