Blogging. Recording a song using SoundCloud. Posting an article you’ve written on Facebook. Vlogging. Uploading a short film you’ve made to YouTube. What do these things have in common? Well, they’re all ways in which the internet and social media have enabled us to do two things. The first is to become authors of works in new ways. The second? To make that work available to a potentially huge number of people at the click of a button.
On the face of it, this looks like a good thing. And in a way, of course it is. What’s not to like about being able to make your work, be it a short story, an illustration or a performance, available to millions in a matter of seconds? The thing is, there’s a flipside to all this. The problem is that if a work is easier for others to access, it is easier for others to distribute. And if it is easier for others to distribute, then it is easier for others to, for example, fail to identify the author. Or to change the work in such a way as to damage the author’s reputation. Or to claim the work as having been created by someone other than the actual author.
It’s because of this that “moral rights” are perhaps more important now than they’ve ever been. And if they’re more important than ever before, then it’s just as important to be aware that they exist and to understand what they are. So here’s the lowdown.
Moral rights have existed as an idea for many years, but were not made a concrete part of the law until relatively recently. They protect the artistic integrity (as opposed to the commercial interests) of authors and other creatives.
The long and short of it is this: if you create a work, then you automatically, without having to do anything at all, have a right – if you choose to assert it – to be identified as its author. Conversely, you have the right not to be inaccurately identified as the author of a work you have not created. And you have the right to object to any treatment of the work that you believe to be detrimental to the work itself and/or to your reputation. .
These rights are, respectively, the right to paternity, the right not to have a work falsely attributed to you and the right to integrity.
And how can these rights be enforced? Well they go hand in hand with copyright, and can be enforced in much the same way. But they are not identical, and it is quite common for authors to assign their copyright without waiving their moral rights. So you’ve probably seen in the front of a book (remember them?) something to the effect that the author has “asserted their moral rights”, or “asserted their right to be identified as the author” of the work, even if they have assigned copyright to the publisher.
You’re probably wondering what a “work” is. The answer is, almost anything. A work can be literary, musical or artistic in nature. So photos, design drawings, stories, songs, articles, films and performances are all works. And that’s only a few examples.
Of course, there are some exceptions (surprise, surprise). If, for example, the article you have just written is published in a newspaper or magazine, then you no longer have the right to be identified as the author. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be, just that you no longer have the right to be.
Now that it’s easier than ever to create a work, and then to make it available almost universally, you should be realising why it’s so important to be aware of moral rights. So the next time you decide to re-post a video on YouTube or an article on Facebook, even with the author’s permission, be careful how you do it. And if you aren’t going to be careful about it, then you probably shouldn’t do it at all.