Artistate Q & A

Moral Rights

Moral rights protect the non-economic interest of the artist. They acknowledge the fact that artists invest in their work emotionally and/or intellectually. They protect artists’ interests in controlling the manner in which their works are used. In the UK, moral rights can be divided into four rights as follows:

  • the paternity right: the right to be identified and recognised as the author of a copyright work.

  • the right of integrity: the right to object to a derogatory treatment of a copyright work such as any addition, deletion, alteration to or adaptation of a work that amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.

  • the right to object to a false attribution: the right not to have an artistic work falsely attributed to the artist as author.

  • the right of privacy: the right to privacy of certain films and photographs. This right enables someone who has commissioned a photograph or film for private and domestic purposes to prevent it from being made available or exhibited to the public.

1. Must I complete a formality to benefit from moral rights?

In England, moral rights apply only to artists living on or after 1 August 1989. Such artists automatically benefit from the right of integrity, the right to object to a false attribution, and the right of privacy. The paternity right, however, must be asserted in order to become effective. This requires authors to take positive action to assert that they wish to benefit from the right. The paternity right can be asserted contractually or on the work itself. For example, artists may choose to state that they assert their right to be identified as the creator of the work in a contract. Alternatively, artists can assert their paternity right by indicating their name on the work itself, or on anything else to which the work is attached, such as a frame or mount.

2. How long will my moral rights last for?

Moral rights have varying durations. The paternity right, the right of integrity and the right of privacy last for the life of the author plus 70 years. The right to object to a false attribution lasts for the life of the author plus 20 years.

3. Can I transfer or waive my moral rights?

Unlike copyright, moral rights cannot be transferred by the artist during his or her lifetime. They will remain with the creator of the work and pass to the artist’s estate after their death. In England, moral rights can be waived contractually. If a waiver is agreed, its terms should be specific so as to avoid uncertainty.

By Mona Yapova, Constantine Cannon LLP

The law varies from country to country.  In this section of the website, we describe the law as it applies in England and Wales.  Whilst similar principles apply in other European countries, and to a lesser extent, in the USA, please do not assume that the law is the same.  For example, artists have stronger moral rights in countries applying the Napoleonic codes than in England and Wales. The information provided on this page is general and may not apply in a specific situation. In doubt, please seek legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. The authors accept no responsibility for the content of this page.