International copyright laws will often consider the concept of moral rights for inclusion into legislation. However, it is of important consideration that there is no governing body of law regarding the application and enforcement of copyright legislation in a cohesive manner.
In other words, international copyright laws exist more in the sense of agreements and treaties agreed upon by the participating countries and nations, rather than a broadly applied and adhered to legal system of regulations.
Moral rights are a concept that not all countries recognize in terms of their own national copyright legislation. Moral rights was originally included in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which acts as the quintessential agreement among its participating nations or signatories as the basis for understanding and implementing a basic guideline regarding copyrights at an international level.
The Berne Convention of 1893 included into its provisions moral rights in 1928. However, it was later amended that countries enacting the copyright regulations of the Convention would have to adhere to all its provisions, with the exception of the moral rights clause. Moral rights differ greatly from economic rights that may be associated with copyright protection and ownership. Moral rights are a collection of certain inalienable privileges attributed to the authors or creators which include:
The right of attribution;
The right to the publishing of materials or works;
The right to have a work published under anonymous or pseudonymous means;
The right to the inherent integrity of the work;
The right to the preservation of the work from alteration of any kind.
Moral rights also allow the authors or creators of a particular work to denounce any action that may detract or possibly harm the artists in terms of his/her relationship to the work itself, as well any action taken in such course that may affect the author’s reputation. This also applies even if the author or creator assigns certain copyrights to other parties, regardless of whether the work in question is no longer in the actual possession or ownership of the author or creator him/herself.
Though the nations under the Berne Convention are to abide by its instated regulations, the moral rights clause is one that is not strictly adhered to by many countries because of problems or contradictions it would ensure within their own copyright legislation systems, and such allowed for the optional adherence to moral rights. Moral rights and how they are actually enforced vary by international copyright laws.
Moral rights in Europe are not able to be transferred to another party, as is the case with the actual copyright, which is considered as property. Authors of works have the right not to enforce such rights, which may be necessary in terms of the economic aspects of copyright laws, and in some cases, choose to employ only specific ones.
Moral rights in Canada, however, are an example of international copyright laws that enforce the concept. Canada’s Copyright Act protects the individuals moral rights in the creation or production of original works.
The exercise of moral rights is best shown through the Snow v. The Eaton Centre Ltd. Michael Snow was commissioned by the shopping mall for the use of an original sculpture depicting Canadian Geese. The Eaton Centre wanted to decorate the sculpture with Christmas regalia for the season and Snow successfully manage to impede the shopping center from doing so, expressing his moral rights by claiming that it was a form of alteration that he would not and had not allowed or permitted.
Hong Kong is an example of how moral rights may only be applied partially or only to certain works. Under international copyright laws, Hong Kong denied moral rights to the creators of computer programs. Furthermore, they also allowed for the transfer of moral rights to another party upon the death of the original moral rights holder.
The United States is famously known for not applying moral rights in the general sense. A main reason as to why the United States did not join the Berne Convention until 1988 was because of the international copyright laws containing the moral rights provision. The U.S. reasoned that such adherence to moral rights would result in the necessity of restructuring its entire copyright law legislation. However, the United States does implement moral rights to certain kinds of copyrighted work, namely those of a visual arts nature. This was enacted into legislation with the Visual Rights Act of 1990, which allowed for the following rights:
The right to claim authorship;
The right to deny the use of the author’s name on any other work not created by the author in question;
The right to deny the use of the author’s name on any work that has been altered from the original, and such alteration would defame the author’s reputation;
The right to deny the destruction of a work of art if it’s considered to be of “recognized stature”.