UCL Art Futures


Moral rights

Moral rights protect a creator’s right to be known as the author or director of a work, and to prevent derogatory treatment of copyrighted work.

1 January 2023

Page contents

Estimated reading time for this page: 4 minutes 

What it is

Moral rights are a collection of personal rights designed to protect the integrity of copyrighted work and the non-economic interests of the original author.

Put another way: moral rights prevent and protect. They prevent derogatory treatment of copyrighted work and protect a creator’s right to be known as the author of that work.


Alice is a playwright and assigned the copyright in her most recent play to Bob’s Theatre Company.

However, moral rights cannot be assigned (see core principles below) and therefore Alice retains the right to be identified as the author of the play whenever it's performed by Bob’s Theatre Company.

Similarly, Bob’s Theatre Company cannot rewrite or otherwise amend the play in such a way that would distort it to such an extent that it would be prejudicial to Alice. If they did so, Alice could take action against Bob’s Theatre Company to enforce her moral rights e.g. to be recognised as the author of the original work and to prevent any prejudicial amendments.

When it applies

Moral rights automatically arise when someone creates a qualifying copyright work (see section on who/what it applies to).

However, in some instances the rights must be asserted to apply (see key legal considerations below).

Who/what it applies to

Moral rights are automatically granted to the original copyright author and cannot be assigned. Even if the copyrighted work itself is assigned, the moral rights stay with the original author who can continue to assert them (including against the assignee).

Moral rights apply to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and to the director of a copyright film. The author, or director, of such works has the right (among others) to be identified as such whenever those works are published commercially, performed or communicated to the public. In the case of architecture, the right to be identified as the architect (including on the original building itself.)

Core principles

  1. The purpose of moral rights is to recognise the special nature of copyrighted work, and are designed to protect the integrity of that work, as well as the reputation of the original creator.
  2. Moral rights are aligned with, but separate to, the economic rights protected by copyright.
  3. They belong to the original author of the work – even if that work has been subsequently sold or licensed.
  4. Moral rights themselves cannot be assigned e.g. transferred to a third party.
  5. Moral rights can be waived (given up), meaning that the original author will not be able to subsequently enforce them.

Why it matters (risks/opportunities)


  • Those using copyrighted work may be unaware that moral rights remain with the original author (even after sale).
  • Breach of moral rights is not always easily detectable e.g. someone falsely attributing work to you.
  • Authors must remember to assert their attribution right e.g. the right to be recognised as the author of a given work.


Moral rights:

  • protect the reputation of original authors, building their profile and audience
  • discourage unlawful interference with another person’s creative work
  • facilitate the sale of work by providing the original author comfort that the work will retain its integrity

Key legal considerations/elements

The key moral rights are: 

  • Attribution right – the original author of a work has the right to be identified as such. This right must be asserted e.g. in a contract agreeing to the publication of the work by a third party. 
  • Integrity right – an author has the right to object to the derogatory treatment of their work. ‘Treatment’ in this context includes any addition to, deletion from, alteration to or adaptation of a work. That treatment is ‘derogatory’ if it amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.
  • False attribution right – a person can object to being falsely identified (either expressly or impliedly) as the author of the work of someone else.
  • Privacy right – the right to object to photographs and films being published that have been commissioned for private and domestic purposes e.g. wedding videography.

Key commercial considerations/elements

By their nature, moral rights relate to important issues that are often strongly held by the work’s author. When dealing with a third party always be clear as to the expectation around each of the moral rights e.g. attribution and integrity.

Read contracts carefully. Assignment, licensing and other agreements for the transfer or sale of work often include a waiver of moral rights.

It's not an infringement of moral rights if the conduct complained of has been consented to. Where appropriate, consider seeking consent from the original author for any proposed use of the work.

Attribution rights must be asserted but this can be done generally e.g in any assignment or licensing agreement relating to the work or in a document signed by the original author.

To support a claim that the integrity right has been breached, an author should collect evidence of any harm to their reputation e.g. online reviews.


Do moral rights apply to everything that I create?

No – moral rights only relate to copyrighted work. Therefore, the work in question must satisfy the requirements for copyright to arise e.g. work that is original and shows a degree of labour, skill or judgment by the author.

How long do moral rights last?

Moral rights last for the same period of time as copyright (usually the author’s lifetime plus 70 years). The right to object to false attribution lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 20 years.

Am I required to assert my attribution right every time the work is transferred?

No, you need only do this once e.g. in the front of a book, on the back of a painting. It then applies to any future owner or user of that work.  

If I make a successful claim, what award might the court make?

Courts will likely award an injunction (to stop the infringing conduct). They may require a disclaimer to be issued (dissociating the original author from the amended work) or damages (a financial payment to compensate you for the harm to your reputation).