Moral Rights Under Copyright Laws

The Berne Convention recognises special rights of the owner of the copyright, this is called moral rights. This right includes paternity rights and integrity rights.

Meaning of Moral Rights

Under the copyright law, the creator of a copyrighted work has certain rights such as the right of reproduction, performance, and making derivatives. These refer to the economic rights of the owner under the copyright.

Apart from these rights the owner also has certain other special rights called moral rights. When a copyright for a work is sold, transferred or licensed, only the economic rights are transferred, the author still retains his moral rights. 

Types of Moral Rights under Copyright Law

  • Paternity rights:

This refers to the author’s claim of ‘creating the work’ and taking the sole credit and attribution of the same.

  • Integrity rights: 

The integrity rights protect the reputation of the author’s work. It allows the author to stop any sort of unauthorised mutilation, modification and distortion of his/her work, and also claim damages in the event of such acts.

For an author to say that the integrity of his work is violated, it must be proven that such acts of mutilation, modification and distortion have hampered the reputation or honour of the creator. Also, these acts must have been done before the term of the copyright expires. 

Recognition of Moral rights in India

The Indian Copyright Act, 1957 also recognises moral rights of the copyright holder. While initially protection was only given to literary works, the scope of protection also extended to other types of works that include artistic and dramatic works, cinematograph films and musical works. 

Examples of Moral Rights under Indian Copyright Law

One of the most popular cases of the exertion of moral rights under copyright law is in the case of Amarnath Sehgal vs Union of India

Facts to the Moral Rights Case

The Government has commissioned a bronze sculpture for Mr Sehgal for the International Convention Hall in Delhi, Vigyan Bhavan. The large sculpture that was almost 140 feet by 40 feet in dimensions, took almost 5 years to complete. This was placed in the centre of the Vigyan Bhavan in 1962 and was considered a masterpiece of Indian art and heritage. 

In 1979, the sculpture was pulled down and was put in a storeroom, without any permission or information taken or given to Mr Sehgal. When the artist came to know about this he was outraged and took this move as an ill-treatment to his work, which directly caused a degrading effect to his pride and reputation. 

The judgement of Moral Rights of Copyright case

When his representations before the government were left unheard, the filed a case before the Delhi High Court, seeking enforcement of his moral rights under Section 57 of the Copyright Act. The Court allowed the case and ruled in his favour, asking the defendants to apologise for the harm caused, and allowed permanent injunctions to safeguard the sculpture from mutilation, distortion and damage.  

Closing Thoughts 

The above case shows that, even though the copyright was transferred on the sale of a copyrighted work from the creator to any other third party, there is no absolute transfer of rights. The original creator would still retain some rights, and his/her moral rights can be enforced during the life of the copyright, should there be a breach of the same. 

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