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June 29, 2021

Comment: Does Expiration of Moral Rights of Author Go Against the Theory of Natural Rights?

Author: Shreya Das

Moral Right is the right of the author to protect the ownership and integrity of its creative work against any perpetrator who would try to modify, distort, mutilate, his or her work in such a way which would be prejudicial to the author’s honour or reputation.

Moral Rights have legal recognition under Article 6bis of the Berne Convention and Section 57 of The Copyright Act, 1957. As per Article 6bis “rights granted to the author …shall, after his death, be maintained, at least until the expiry of the economic rights…”. Many countries such as China provide an unlimited term for Moral Rights. The Copyright Act, 1957 does not shed light on the duration of validity of Moral Rights. None of the provisions make it clear if Moral Rights can exist independent of the copyright term itself. However, the general belief is that Moral Rights expire as soon as copyright in a creative work ceases to exist.

Many, including myself, consider Moral Rights as a Natural Right. The reason is that it has all the characteristics of Natural Rights. Moral Right of an author is as much a Natural Right as a Legal Right. One of the key features of Natural Rights is that these rights are inalienable by human society and government – they cannot be repealed by human laws, though such laws can have the consequence that one can be made to forfeit their enjoyment. The very idea of expiration of Moral Rights goes against this important feature of Natural Rights.

Unlimited term for Moral Rights does not prevent the creative work to come in the public domain for free use after the expiry of the copyright period. It only helps the legal representative of the author to take appropriate actions against any perpetrator whose action would be detrimental to the reputation of the author and its work. These rights are not dependent upon any legal validation, and clearly not dependent upon the copyright protection per se. Moral Rights, being a Natural Right, pertain to the integrity of the author. They should subsist beyond the copyright term to protect the legacy and natural rights of the author. 

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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