Moral rights are enshrined in Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, aligning with Article 6bis of the Berne Convention.

These rights serve as a unique protection for authors or creators, encompassing both the right to paternity and the right to integrity.

The right to paternity allows creators to assert their identity over their creations, ensuring they receive proper attribution.

Meanwhile, the right to integrity empowers creators to object to or seek compensation for any alterations, distortions, or other actions in relation to a work that might harm their work.

It’s crucial, though, that such actions genuinely tarnish the creator’s honor or reputation and occur within the copyright term of the work.

While moral rights in copyright were originally designed for literary pieces, their scope has since broadened to include artistic, musical, dramatic, and cinematographic works.

What are Moral Rights in Copyright Law?

Moral rights are a unique facet of intellectual property that focus on the personal and reputational connection between creators and their creations.

While copyright primarily guards the economic rights, allowing creators to profit from their works, moral rights emphasise the creator’s identity and the work’s original essence.

This means that even if a creator sells their copyright, they still retain the right to be recognised as the work’s author and can object to any alterations that might distort their creation.

The concept of moral rights has its origins in the French legal system, derived from the term “Droit Moral.”

Over time, this idea has been integrated into the copyright laws of various countries, each adapting it to their cultural and legal contexts.

Tracing the Roots of Moral Rights

The concept of moral rights first gained acknowledgment in France and Germany.

The broader human rights framework, specifically Article 27(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, underscored the importance of safeguarding an author’s moral rights.

However, given that these rights of authors weren’t formally codified, there was a pressing need for a more robust mechanism to ensure their protection.

This led to the establishment of the Berne Convention in 1886, an international treaty focused on copyright. The convention enshrined moral rights within its provisions, specifically in Article 6bis.

Article 6bis(1) of the Berne Convention states the following:

“Independently of the author’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation.”

Evolution of Moral Rights in Indian Copyright Law: A Historical Overview

The development of moral rights within the framework of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957 has been a steady, responsive, and creator-centric process.

Initially, when the British colonial rulers introduced the Indian Copyright Act in 1847, it was a pioneering move, granting authors exclusive rights over their creative outputs, a concept previously unfamiliar in India.

Yet, this 1847 legislation didn’t touch upon moral rights.

The acknowledgment of moral rights in Indian copyright law only came a century later with the Indian Copyright Act of 1957.

A landmark case that shed light on moral rights in India was Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures Pvt. Ltd. and Ors. in 1987.

This case clarified that Section 57 wasn’t just restricted to literary creations but also encompassed visual and auditory content.

Interestingly, the Act initially granted moral rights an everlasting protection, in contrast to economic rights which had a finite protective term.

However, the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 1994 aligned India’s stance on moral rights with the Berne Convention’s Final Paris Act of 1971, emphasising that moral rights should stand distinct from economic rights.

A pivotal shift occurred with the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012. It revived the idea of eternal moral rights, re-establishing distinct frameworks for both economic and moral rights.

Furthermore, this 2012 amendment expanded the scope of moral rights to include performers, aligning with international treaties like the WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty of 1996 and the Beijing Treaty on Audio-Visual Performances of 2012.

Understanding the Acquisition and Scope 

Moral rights come into existence concurrently with the creation of a copyrighted work. There’s no need for a separate registration to claim these rights.

Typically, these rights persist throughout the creator’s life and extend for several years posthumously. In some jurisdictions, for these rights to be actionable, the author must actively assert them.

While moral rights can’t be handed over or assigned during the author’s lifetime, they can be passed on to the legal heirs after the author’s demise.

Moral rights are applicable to a variety of works, including:

  • Artistic Creations: This encompasses photographs, drawings, paintings, crafts, murals, and design-oriented works like maps and blueprints.
  • Literary Pieces: This category includes written content and even software programs.
  • Dramatic Compositions: Think of plays, scripts, and other theatrical works.
  • Musical Compositions: This pertains to any form of musical creation.
  • Cinematograph Film Productions: This covers a broad spectrum, from documentaries and feature films to music videos and advertisements.
  • Performances: Both live shows and recorded performances fall under this.
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However, it’s worth noting that sound recordings are an exception and don’t come with associated moral rights.

What are Moral Rights in Different Countries?

Moral rights, while universally recognised, manifest differently across countries. Here’s a snapshot of how they play out in various regions:


European countries predominantly view moral rights as inalienable.

Authors typically can’t transfer or extensively renounce these rights, reflecting European copyright tradition where copyrights are seen more as licensable properties rather than sellable assets.

While authors can agree to limited waivers (common in European contracts), they might need to actively ‘assert’ these rights for enforcement.

Many books, for instance, have an assertion page near the start, alongside library cataloging details.


China’s Copyright Law (1990) under Article 20 grants authors perpetual protection concerning rights of authorship, alteration, and integrity.

Given that Article 55 offers retroactive protection for terms that haven’t expired when the law came into effect, China’s eternal moral rights also have retroactive characteristics.

The 2001 revision maintains this stance, with the original Article 55 becoming Article 59.


Canada’s Copyright Act, under Section 14.1, safeguards authors’ moral rights.

While these rights can’t be transferred, they can be contractually waived.

Many Canadian publishing agreements now incorporate a standard clause waiving moral rights.

A notable instance of these rights being invoked in Canada was the Snow v.

The Eaton Centre Ltd. case. Artist Michael Snow had been commissioned by Toronto Eaton Centre for a Canada Geese sculpture. Snow later successfully prevented Eaton’s from adorning the geese with festive bows.

United States

Historically, the U.S. hasn’t fully embraced moral rights.

While certain moral rights elements exist, they’re typically safeguarded via specific contractual terms or state-specific laws, or through derivative work rights in U.S. copyright law.

The U.S. approach leans more towards safeguarding financial incentives over creative attributions.

The U.S.’s exclusive rights tradition doesn’t align seamlessly with the moral rights concept rooted in post-Revolutionary France’s Civil Code.

When the U.S. joined the Berne Convention, it argued that its existing statutes, like slander and libel laws, sufficiently addressed the Convention’s “moral rights” provisions.

Types of Moral Rights

Moral rights encompass several distinct rights that protect both the creator and their creation:

Right of Attribution (or Right to Authorship):

This right confirms the creator’s claim over their work, ensuring the public recognises the original author.

It mandates that the creator’s name be associated with the work, deterring plagiarism. Whether the work is reproduced or adapted, the author’s name should be prominently displayed.

In some places, authors need to actively assert this right, either through legal agreements or by visibly associating their name with the work, like on an artwork’s frame.

Typically, this assertion is a one-time act and shouldn’t be prolonged. Interestingly, this right also permits authors to use pseudonyms.

Exceptions: This right isn’t applicable when the work is:

  • Used for reporting current events,
  • Published in newspapers,
  • Featured in reference materials like encyclopedias or dictionaries.

Right to Integrity

This right ensures that the work isn’t subjected to any derogatory treatment, such as significant distortions, destruction, or unwarranted modifications. It safeguards both the work’s essence and the creator’s reputation.

Any alteration that could potentially harm the work’s integrity or the author’s reputation is prohibited. Negative feedback or critiques can sometimes infringe upon this right.

The exceptions to this right mirror those of the Right of Attribution. It’s especially relevant when a work is adapted from one medium to another.

Right against False Attribution

Simply put, this right prevents individuals from wrongfully claiming ownership or authorship in respect of a work. It ensures that no one receives credit for a creation they didn’t produce.

Other Notable Moral Rights

  • The right to maintain the work’s privacy.
  • The right to decide when and how a work is published.
  • The right to pull a work from the market after its release.
  • The right to retract or withdraw a work.
  • The right to defend against actions that might tarnish the author’s persona.

Infringement and Remedies of Moral Rights

When an individual’s work is utilised without proper attribution or in a manner that might tarnish the creator’s reputation, it’s considered a breach of moral rights.

Creators have the legal right to challenge such violations.


The legal system offers a range of remedies for infringement based on the specifics of the violation:

  • Cease and Desist Orders (Injunctions): Courts can issue directives to halt the violation. These can be either temporary or permanent, contingent on the case’s details. To secure an injunction, the aggrieved party must demonstrate a clear violation, the harm they’ve suffered, and the potential damage or injury they face.
  • Monetary Compensation: The aggrieved party can seek financial redress for the harm they’ve endured. If the work has been altered or repurposed, they might also claim damages for that transformation.
  • Anton Piller Order: This order mandates the violator to cease using the aggrieved party’s work. Additionally, it can grant permission for the aggrieved party’s legal representative to inspect the violator’s premises.
  • Legal Penalties: The severity of the violation can lead the court to impose fines or even incarceration on the violator.
  • Public Redress: Courts can require the violator for public apology for misusing the creator’s work.
  • Order for Rectification: If the work has been presented in a derogatory manner, the court can order its correction or removal to protect the creator’s reputation.
  • Attribution Correction: If there’s a false claim of authorship, the court can mandate the proper recognition of the original creator and the removal of any incorrect attributions.
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In the U.S., the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) is the primary legislation that provides moral rights, but it’s specific to creators of visual art. Under VARA, an artist can prevent incorrect attribution of their work and can also choose to remain anonymous.

If someone falsely attributes a piece of work to an artist or attributes a work to an artist against their wishes, the artist can seek an action for defamation.

However, it’s worth noting that in the U.S., moral rights are infrequently invoked, and on the rare occasions they are, courts often don’t heavily weigh them.

This is largely because many legal contracts in the U.S. include clauses that not only license copyright but also waive any associated moral rights.

This practice extends even to works like books, where U.S. copyright law doesn’t traditionally recognise moral rights.

In Australia, when a creator believes their moral rights have been violated, they can seek legal recourse. The potential outcomes from a court’s decision can encompass:

  • Monetary redress, often in the form of damages.
  • A directive, known as an injunction, to halt or prevent a specific action related to the infringement.
  • A mandate to correct or undo any false authorship claims or derogatory alterations to the work.

When determining the appropriate remedy, courts consider various factors.

One key consideration is any action the defendant might have taken to mitigate the infringement’s impact.

Before issuing an injunction, courts prioritise facilitating discussions between the involved parties, encouraging them to reach a mutual agreement.

Understanding the Applicability 

While copyright grants both economic and moral rights to a creator, transferring copyright doesn’t mean giving up moral rights.

These rights persist with the original creator.

Many countries’ copyright laws have specific provisions for moral rights.

It’s essential to note that these moral rights are designated for individuals, not corporations or organisations.

Understanding the Waiver of Moral Rights

While in European nations, moral rights (or special rights) are non-negotiable and can’t be set aside, in other regions, they can be waived.

Typically, this waiver occurs through a formal written agreement. An author might choose to forgo their moral rights using a specific clause in a contract, often termed the “severability clause.”

This is commonly seen in employment scenarios where an employee creates something for their employer, leading to both copyright and moral rights being transferred to the company.

Landmark judgements on Moral Rights in India

Amarnath Sehgal v. Union of India

This case stands as a pivotal moment for moral rights laws in India.

Amar Nath Sehgal, the plaintiff, had crafted a bronze sculpture that adorned the International Convention hall in Delhi for over twenty years.

However, this bronze mural was later removed and carelessly stored in a storeroom.

Sehgal challenged the Government of India based on Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The court’s decision emphasised that Section 57 encompasses even the destruction of art, viewing it as an extreme form of mutilation.

Such destruction diminishes the entirety of an artist’s body of work, potentially tarnishing their reputation.

In essence, mutilation is seen as rendering a piece incomplete or flawed.

The court further clarified the breadth of moral rights under Section 57, breaking it down into four categories:

  • the Right of Paternity (the right to be recognised as the work’s creator),
  • the Dissemination Right (the economic right to monetise the work),
  • the Moral Right of Integrity (ensuring the work remains unaltered and true to its original form), and
  • the Right to Retraction (allowing artists to pull their work from public view).

Raj Rewal v. Union of India

In the case involving Raj Rewal, the moral rights associated with the Hall of Nations, a notable building in Pragati Maidan, Delhi, were under scrutiny.

Rewal was commissioned by ITPO (the defendant) in 1979 to design the Hall of Nations, commemorating India’s 25th Independence Day.

This architectural marvel, constructed using a space frame structure and concrete for both the roof and adjacent walls, was also acknowledged as a cultural heritage landmark. Yet, in 2017, the structure was razed to make way for a new complex.

Despite Rewal’s numerous appeals to the government and multiple petitions, his efforts were fruitless. He then sought legal recourse with the Delhi High Court, claiming that the demolition tarnished his reputation.

The central question was whether Rewal retained any moral rights over the Hall of Nations, given that ITPO was its legal owner.

Additionally, the court had to determine if moral rights could override the right to property, a constitutional right outlined in Art. 300A of the Indian Constitution.

The court’s verdict was clear: while the Hall of Nations was ITPO’s property, Rewal, as its designer, did possess moral rights.

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However, these rights couldn’t supersede the Constitution of India, the foundational legal document of the nation.

As a result, ITPO’s constitutional right to property took precedence over Rewal’s moral rights.

7 Intriguing Facts About Moral Rights in Copyright Law

In the realm of intellectual property, copyright represents a bundle of rights that grant the copyright holder exclusive control over their creations, be it literary works, music, or motion pictures.

Here are some intriguing facts about moral rights within the statute on copyright:

  1. Nature of Moral Rights: Unlike the economic benefit derived from copyright, which is an economic right, moral rights are personal rights that protect the personal connection between the creator of copyright works and their creations, especially their reputations.
  2. Specific Applicability: Moral rights specifically apply to literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, including motion pictures. This ensures that the intellectual effort put into creating a piece of work is recognised and respected.
  3. Non-Transferable: While the copyright owner can transfer their item of property through the assignment of copyright, moral rights, being personal rights, cannot be assigned. This means that even if an author sells their copyright by virtue of an agreement, they still retain their moral rights.
  4. Types of Moral Rights: In the UK, there’s a bundle of rights granted to authors, including:
    • The right of paternity: The right to attribution of authorship.
    • The right of integrity: The right to object to any derogatory treatment of their work.
    • The right not to suffer false attribution: Ensuring that a work isn’t falsely credited to someone else.
    • The right to privacy: Pertaining to photographs or films commissioned for private purposes.
  5. Employee-Created Works: For works created by an employee in the course of their employment, their entitlement to moral rights is more of limited extent. They might not benefit from the right to be identified as the author or the right to object to derogatory treatment, especially if the employer is copyright holder.
  6. Duration of Moral Rights: Most moral rights last for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, the right not to have a work falsely attributed lasts only 20 years post the author’s demise.
  7. International Variations: The concept of moral rights varies globally. For instance, in France, certain moral rights are perpetual, emphasising the importance of personal rights over property rights in some jurisdictions.

Understanding these rights, especially when dealing with copyrighted materials, is crucial for businesses and individuals to ensure they respect the rights of authors and avoid potential infringements.


In the realm of copyright law, moral rights stand as a testament to the intrinsic connection between creators and their creations.

These rights, deeply rooted in civil law jurisdictions, serve as a protective shield for authors, ensuring their personal and reputational rights are upheld even when economic benefits are transferred.

The attribution of authorship, for instance, remains a pivotal aspect of copyright law, ensuring that creators are rightfully acknowledged for their intellectual effort.

The moral rights regime varies from country to country, with some nations emphasising the personal rights of creators over property rights.

For instance, while the license of copyright might be transferred, the essence of moral rights ensures that the original creator’s vision and integrity remain intact.

This is evident in cases where government authorities or other entities might alter or misuse a work, leading to potential damage to reputation.


What are moral rights in the context of copyright law?

These rights are the author’s or creator’s special rights, distinct from economic rights, which include the right to paternity (claiming authorship) and the right to integrity (preventing distortion or mutilation that harms the author’s reputation).

How do moral rights differ from the basics of copyright?

While the basics of copyright law primarily focus on the economic rights of the author, allowing them to exploit their work for financial gain, moral rights are more about the personal and reputational rights of the author.

These rights remain with the author even after the assignment of copyright.

What happens if there’s a claim for infringement of moral rights?

If there’s a claim for infringement of these special rights, the affected author or creator can seek remedies such as financial compensation, injunctions to prevent further infringement, and even public apologies in some jurisdictions.

Can moral rights be transferred like other forms of ownership in copyright?

No, moral rights are personal to the author and cannot be fully transferred like economic rights. However, in some jurisdictions, they can be waived to a limited extent through contractual agreements.

Can an author of sound recording claim moral rights?

No, an author of a sound recording cannot claim moral rights. While these special rights are applicable to various forms of artistic and literary works, sound recordings are an exception in many jurisdictions and don’t come with associated moral rights.