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In the Visual Artists Rights Act, Congress has for the first time included moral rights within the U.S. copyright statute. Well-known in continental European copyright doctrine, and secured by the Berne Convention, moral rights afford protection for the author's personal, non-economic interests in receiving attribution for her work, and in preserving the work in the form in which it was created, even after its sale or licensing. These rights of attribution (sometimes infelicitously labeled the "right of paternity") and of integrity are conceptually distinct from the economic rights of exploitation set forth in section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act. The extent to which U.S. copyright or other doctrines had already assimilated or simulated moral rights has been hotly debated.

Although, upon adhering to the Berne Convention in 1988, the United States had declared that adequate coverage of the rights of attribution and integrity existed, Congress in 1990 at last enacted specific legislation on the moral rights question. The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 now affords limited, but explicit rights of attribution and integrity to a narrowly defined class of visual artists. Because the Visual Artists Rights Act achieved passage where many prior attempts to secure a U.S. moral rights law failed, it is worth noting three factors that may have prompted its enactment.


Intellectual Property Law | Law