Copyright Office Initiates Study on the Moral Rights of Attribution and Integrity

In the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”), Congress for the first time legislated limited moral rights of attribution and integrity to authors of narrowly defined works of visual arts. These rights, following the model suggested in the international Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, mirror rights granted to authors by most industrialized nations of the world. They guarantee to authors of so-called fine arts and exhibition photographs the right to claim or disclaim authorship in a work; limited rights to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification of a work; and the right, under some circumstances, to prevent destruction of a work that is incorporated into a building. VARA covers only limited, fine art categories of “works of visual art”: paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, still photographs produced for exhibition. Within this group, only single copies or signed and numbered limited editions of 200 or less are actually protected. See http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_law/esworthy.htm  The Copyright Office has a report on waiver of the VARA that includes some history and comparison of the VARA to other nation’s “moral rights” protection for artists.

The U.S. Copyright Office is now undertaking a public study to review how existing U.S. law, including provisions found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code and other federal and state laws, protects the moral rights of attribution and integrity and whether any additional protection is advisable in this area. To support the congressional review of the nation’s copyright law and provide thorough assistance to Congress, the Office is seeking public input on a number of questions.

The Office published a Federal Register notice today soliciting written comments from the public. Instructions for submitting comments are available here. Comments must be received no later than11:59 p.m. Eastern time on March 9, 2017. Reply comments must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on April 24, 2017. The Office may announce one or more public meetings, to take place after written comments are received, by separate notice in the future.

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