Blog Read

The Rights of the Deceased: Moral Rights Incidental to Copyright Law

The Rights of the Deceased: Moral Rights Incidental to Copyright Law

By: - Vanshika Agrawal

Christ (Deemed to be University) Delhi NCR


The article goes into detail on how a creator's legacy and intellectual property are handled and safeguarded following their passing. In copyright law, the rights to integrity and attribution are the two main categories of moral rights. While integrity refers to the right to keep the work from being altered in any way that would damage the creator's reputation, attribution refers to the right of a creator to be identified as the author of their creation. Although moral rights are clearly defined for artists who are still alive, applying them to works created after death presents significant ethical and legal issues. The question of posthumous moral rights raises questions about how long these rights ought to last after the creator passes away. Different legal regimes offer different timeframes for the protection of moral rights; these range from the lifetime of copyright to an endless amount of time. The differences between these methods might cause problems with international copyright and moral rights disputes, especially when artists' works are distributed internationally.

Even though the artist may have given instructions about their works during their lifetime, heirs, legal agents, and courts may interpret these directions differently. Furthermore, changes in society and culture throughout time may have an impact on how the creator's intentions are seen and honored.

Additionally, maintaining posthumous moral rights now faces additional difficulties as a result of technological improvements. Rapid work distribution and modification made possible by the digital age may not align with the aims of the departed artist. To ensure that works are not misrepresented or exploited and to provide appropriate access and usage for transformational, educational, or research purposes, legal frameworks must be updated to accommodate these contemporary issues. A thorough analysis of the various legal frameworks about posthumous moral rights in various countries, including the United States and Europe, indicates the necessity for well-defined regulations that honor the legacy of the artist as well as the works' wider cultural and societal influence. In the end, this legal issue necessitates striking a delicate balance between honoring the last intentions of the departed artist and granting society access to their intellectual property for advancement.


What are the ingredients of the moral right of integrity?

In India, an author's respect or reputation may be damaged by distortion, dismemberment, modification, or any other act related to a work that is considered "derogatory treatment" (Section 57(1)(b) of the Copyright Act, 1957). This is known as the "integrity right." Authors' legal representatives may also invoke the integrity right. The duration of the copyright in question does not affect or restrict this right in any way. But unlike often contested cases like copyright infringement, the idea of moral rights has not been seriously examined in Indian jurisprudence more than a few times. This is in addition to writers in India having a glaring ignorance of the rights (particularly non-economic ones) afforded under copyright law. This has led to the regrettable undervaluation of moral rights' potential as a tool for defending writers' rights in India.

It is crucial to define the elements of a breach of integrity right from the beginning: first, the fact that there has been disparaging treatment; and second, and maybe more crucially, harm to one's honor or reputation. The purposeful use of the phrase's reputation and honor suggests that the legislature intended to consider them as two different ideas. This is consistent with the words' definitions in dictionaries and the history of negotiations leading up to the 1948 Berne Convention. Consequently, reputation, as used in defamation law, refers to the respect or admiration that others have for an individual. Therefore, harm to one's reputation would be considered an unfavorable response from a fictitious group of people in the community, which seems like a fairly impartial assessment. Conversely, honor would be seen as an author's sense of self-worth, dignity, or other admirable qualities, and it would have a meaning separate from reputation.

The Indian Civil Procedure Code, 1908 defines a "legal representative" as one who is authorized to act on behalf of the estate of a deceased person. Thus, the same would apply to the author's executors and administrators of the deceased author's will in addition to the author's legal heirs. In such an instance, it could be unreasonable to expect the executors/administrators to aggressively challenge any infractions in the absence of detailed instructions, considering their lack of personal connection to the deceased author.


Comparing Different Jurisdictions with that of India

Different jurisdictions take varied approaches to assessing moral rights claims regarding reputation.

In France, allegations of prejudice to an author's honor and reputation are decided by a wholly subjective approach. The author's viewpoint and claims on the influence of their work are given considerable weight in this method. An allegation made by the author (or their estate, in the event of their death) that a specific use of their work damages their honor or reputation is sometimes taken as proof positive for a claim. This method gives the creator's personal opinion precedence above any evaluation from the outside. A reasonable author in the relevant field is subjected to an objective investigation of prejudice in the case of the United Kingdom. This approach ignores the creator's own opinions in favor of focusing on how a plausible, hypothetical author might interpret the effect on reputation. To give a knowledgeable opinion on whether using the work might harm the creator's reputation, expert evidence is frequently employed. The goal of this strategy is to give a more uniform and consistent evaluation of claims. On the other hand, Canada employs a mixed approach, weighing both empirical and subjective factors when evaluating claims of moral rights. The subjective claim of bias made by the author is taken into account, but it is also evaluated using an objective reasonableness criterion. This criterion is established by evaluating the circumstances via the prism of expert or popular opinion. Even while the author's personal opinions about bias are taken into account, they also need to make sense in the larger scheme of things.

Every strategy strikes a different balance between honoring the artist's own viewpoint and making sure assertions are supported by a more comprehensive, impartial evaluation of how their work is seen.

Analyzing the situation of moral rights through Judgments and Incidents  

In the Arun Chadha v. Oca Productions case as well, the court first evaluated the plaintiff's qualifications to show his renown as a highly esteemed director before determining whether or not the plaintiff's reputation was harmed by unapproved changes to the work in question. Following this evaluation, the Court concluded that the plaintiff's reputation had been harmed by the contested disparaging treatment based on objective facts such as third parties canceling their contracts with him and the effect this had on the plaintiff's future business prospects.

The plaintiff, a well-known Indian author, contended in Mannu Bhandari v. Kala Vikas Pictures that the defendants, a production company, were commercializing her novel in a way that went against the theme of her original writing and would damage her reputation among academics, students, and the general public. Upon reviewing her claim, the Court found that it was both "reasonable" and non-imaginary and that her "apprehension of loss of reputation[was] a genuine one."Thus, the Court weighed the plaintiff's allegations against a neutral standard of reasonableness. The Court also took into account objective proof of the plaintiff's standing as a writer in Indian Hindi literature, as shown by information on the popularity of her works both domestically and abroad, as well as her accomplishments, which included awards and memberships in several reputable organizations.

Furthermore, Mac Miller's producer, with whom he had previously worked closely, completed his first posthumous record, "Circles," which accurately reflected and followed his vision. Further work by individuals who aren't necessarily acquainted with his approach, however, carries the danger of betraying his creative integrity to reach a wider audience and capitalize on the nostalgia of his massive fan following.


Suggestions and what is the way forward?

The legal representative "may" exercise the moral right, as stipulated by Section 57 of The Copyright Act, and they may also choose to use this discretion by declining to enforce the right. Because the remedies offered in these instances are often injunctive relief or minor damages, pursuing such action would be time-consuming, expensive, and not financially rewarding. Since the majority of intellectual property issues are settled by settlement, attorneys driven by financial gain may also decide to pursue infractions vigorously in the hopes of obtaining financial settlements that would increase their receivables from the job. Courts ought to have some supervisory authority over such cases and be permitted to consider applications from parties with a greater interest in defending the moral rights of the work.

Since the moral right to integrity is non-economic, it is improbable that legal representatives would uphold moral rights with the same accuracy as the original author would if they had no personal connection to the work. To resolve the issues raised above, suitable guidelines and regulations for the application of Section 57 should be released. The preservation of these rights is especially crucial since society at large has an interest in the unadulterated intended message of an author, particularly in the case of people who are unable to produce new works or defend those they already have.



Drop your comment