Interesting, if fairly lightweight, piece in the NYT today about a new French lawsuit over the staging of a play in a manner that conflicts with the desires of the deceased playwright. From this, the article jumps into a quick sketch of the droit moral, or doctrine of “moral rights,” which is one of the key factors distinguishing Continental copyright law (there more commonly known as the law of “authors’ rights”) from its United States counterpart.
To be sure, we recognize bits and pieces of moral rights law here in the United States — there is a separate copyright statute, the Visual Artists’ Rights Act of 1990, that extends a form of moral rights (specifically, protections of the rights of attribution and integrity) to the creators of “works of visual art,” which the statute defines in fairly restrictive terms. Sometimes the courts, too, manage to recognize what are in substance moral rights even while not directly labeling them as such — as the Second Circuit did, for example, in Gilliam v. ABC, which blended principles of contract law and copyright’s derivative works right to give the creators of Monty Python’s Flying Circus what was tantamount to a moral right of integrity.
I had to chuckle, however, at the following passage from the Times’ article, which perhaps could have benefited from a little stricter copyediting:
But whatever the outcome, the tiff has served to highlight the power and privileges enjoyed by the heirs of creative artists. They may have no artistic talent of their own, but they bask in reflected glory, receive royalties and determine how works are interpreted or exploited. (emphasis mine)
Naturally, here in America we are shocked — shocked! — by the prospect that those who “have no artistic talent of their own” but merely “bask in reflected glory” may nevertheless “receive royalties and determine how works are interpreted and exploited.” The very idea!