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In the creative industry, your ideas directly translate to the quality of your work. Therefore, the intellectual property (IP) of your creative pieces are a valuable asset. Copyright is an inherent IP right that protects your expression. However, you can also sell your copyrighted works or create them while employed by someone else. Do you retain ownership over your ideas? In most cases, you still keep ‘moral rightsover your work. These recognise your creation of the work as the author or director and operate independently of copyright. This article will explain your moral rights over copyright work owned by someone else as an author or director.

How Does Copyright Work?

Copyright is an inherent IP right that applies as soon as you create a work. In most circumstances, it lasts for your lifetime plus 50 years. It applies to: 

  • literary, artistic, dramatic, or musical works;
  • communication works;
  • sound recordings;
  • films; and
  • typographical arrangements of published editions. 

Copyright covers ‘economic rights’. When you own a copyrighted work, you have the exclusive right to profit from it. You can sell this IP right or licence it to get royalties for your work.

For example, if you write a novel, you can sell the copyright to your book to a publisher or licence it. Then, you gain royalties from sales of your book.

If someone infringes your copyrighted work, such as copying portions of it, you may have civil remedies available.

Who Owns Copyright?

In most cases, because you created the work, you own its copyright as soon as you do so. If people want to use your copyrighted work, they need to get your permission first. You can also decide whether you sell the IP rights to someone else or licence it.

However, there are a couple of situations when you do not inherently own the copyright of things you write or direct. These are:

  • during the course of employment; and
  • for commissions.

When you create IP as part of your job, your employer usually gets exclusive rights to it. Your employment agreement should set out the exact nature of who owns the IP that you create in this situation.

When someone commissions you to complete a creative work, they pay you money to create something for them. The commissioner may give you instructions or specifications and will pay you a fee. Examples include:

  • photographs;
  • computer programs;
  • paintings;
  • drawings;
  • diagrams; 
  • maps;
  • music; or 
  • other original works.

In this case, the person that commissioned you owns the copyright to that work, unless your written agreement or contract says otherwise.

What Are Moral Rights?

Moral rights operate alongside copyright, and you still usually have these rights even if:

  • you have sold your copyright;
  • you created copyright for your job; or
  • someone has commissioned your copyrighted work.

In all of these cases, you still have moral rights in your work, even if someone else owns the copyright. Moral rights are ‘personal rights’ as opposed to the ‘economic rights’ that copyright grants. As the author or director of an original work, you get moral rights, and performers get them as well. These rights apply to works that are:

  • literary, such as novels or screenplays;
  • dramatic, such as dance or film scripts;
  • musical, such as songs or pieces; and
  • artistic, such as paintings or sculptures.

For example, as a director, your film producer may own the copyright to your film, but you still have moral rights regardless.

Note that creators of sound recordings and computer-related works do not get moral rights when they create these things.

The Result of Having Moral Rights

When you have moral rights in an original work, you get three rights in particular, which are the right to:

  • be identified as the author or director of a work;
  • object to any derogatory treatment of a work; and
  • not have a work falsely attributed to you.

If someone promotes or sells your film or novel, then you have the right to have your name on the cover or poster. Leading on from that, derogatory treatment includes any changes to the copyrighted work that would damage your honour or reputation. Additionally, false attribution means that people cannot say that you wrote or directed a work when you did not.

Keeping Your Moral Rights

You cannot sell your moral rights, and they continue on after your death. However, some employment agreements or other contracts may ask you to sign a ‘waiver’ of your moral rights. If you agree to this, your rights do not disappear. Instead, you agree not to enforce your moral rights against the other party. Be sure to thoroughly read through any contract that relates to your IP.

Key Takeaways

Moral rights are your personal rights in a copyrighted work as the author or director. With these rights, you have the right to have your name attached to your work. You also have the right to object to any derogatory treatment of your work and the right not to attach your name to a creative work. If you would like more information or guidance around your moral rights as an author or director, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright is an automatic IP right you get as the creator of an original work. For example, in most cases, the author of a novel gets the copyright to that novel.

What are moral rights?

Moral rights operate alongside copyright. These are personal rights that you have as the creator of a work. 

Do I still have moral rights if I sell my copyright?

Even if you sell your copyright, you still have moral rights as the author or director of an original work. However, be careful of waivers of these rights in any contracts you sign.

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