The Lost Tort of Moral Rights Invasion
32 Pages Posted: 14 May 2018
Date Written: April 23, 2018
Moral rights are often portrayed as an unwelcome import into U.S. law. During the nineteenth century, European lawmakers, influenced by personality theories of authorship, began granting authors rights of attribution and integrity. However, while these rights proliferated in Europe and international copyright treaties, they were not adopted in the United States. According to a common historical narrative, U.S. courts and lawmakers resisted moral rights because they were deemed incompatible with the copyright tradition of treating expressive works as alienable property. What little moral rights U.S. law provides today is thus seen as a necessary evil, grudgingly accepted, simply to comply with international obligations.
This Article presents a history of moral rights protection that challenges, to a degree, that common historical narrative. The Article tracks how American courts adjudicated attribution and integrity disputes during the twentieth century. Doing so not only reveals that the American judiciary was more sympathetic to these claims than commonly appreciated, but, even more surprisingly, came close to developing a tort of moral rights invasion. While copyright historians know that courts have long provided proxy protection for moral rights under preexisting common law causes of action (e.g., defamation, unfair competition, privacy, etc.), what is not widely known is how frequently courts were willing to protect attribution and integrity interests directly under the banner of moral rights. This Article tells the story of how courts in the mid-twentieth century, applying state law, increasingly articulated a "sui generis tort" of moral rights invasion. It then proceeds to question why the moral rights tort stagnated and was forgotten about in the late twentieth century.
Keywords: copyright, moral rights, history
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation