LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

WHAT IS MORAL RIGHT IN COPYRIGHT

Copyright in Nigeria confers a ‘bundle’ or ‘basket’ of several rights to the owner of copyright.  These rights may be generally classified as ‘moral rights’ and ‘economic rights’. There is also the specific right given to a class of authors to share in the proceeds of the sale of their works, popularly known as Droit de suite.
Moral rights are rights aimed at protecting the reputation and dignity of the creator of a work and to ensure that no one claims authorship of a work which he has not authored. Such claim is known as plagiarism and treated with deep contempt in the artistic, academic, intellectual and media environments. Some persons consider these rights also known as Les droit moraux to be even more important than the economic rights.
Moral Rights ensure that when the work of an author is used, his authorship is indicated, except when the work is included incidentally or accidentally in reporting current events in a broadcast. Moral Rights also ensure that the work of an author is not distorted, mutilated or modified in such a manner that is derogatory or prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.
Moral Rights differ from economic rights in several ways. Moral rights are perpetual. In other words, the rights last forever. These rights continue even after the economic rights have ceased.  Common sense will suggest that the author of a work continues to be the author of the work even if he can no longer claim exclusive control of its use. On the other hand, economic rights have limited durations as these rights do not last forever.
The great evergreen highlife song, Love Adure was composed by Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson of blessed memory. The estate of Rex Lawson can sell the copyright in Love Adure to anyone they choose who can thereafter exploit the work for economic gains, but the new owner of the copyright can never claim authorship of the work. For all times, authorship of Love Adure will be credited to Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson. If anyone else claims authorship of the song, the estate of Rex Lawson can go to court and seek reliefs against the infringement of Lawson’s moral rights.
Moral Rights are also inalienable. While the economic rights may be assigned, licensed or transferred, moral rights cannot be taken away from the author. In other words, ownership of copyright may change, through commercial or other transactions, but the authorship cannot change.  Authorship is a historic fact. The only other persons who can protect these rights are the heirs and successors-in-title of the author. As illustrated above, Fela Anikulapo Kuti would for all times be credited with the authorship of his array of superhits like Shakara, Lady, When Trouble Sleep, Chop & Quench, etc.
Furthermore, Moral rights are imprescriptible. Moral rights cannot be taken away through regulations, agreements or contracts. These are, more or less, fundamental rights of a creator. For instance, there can never be any valid sale of the rights in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart” in which the new owner can thereafter validly claim the authorship of the great Things Fall Apart. Any contract to that effect will be void ab initio.
Moral Rights are provided in Section 12 of the Copyright Act.  It is arguable whether moral rights do comply with the general definition of copyright since the rights are not transferable nor are they limited by time. It therefore may not be out of order to take the position that moral rights may really qualify as ‘neighbouring rights’ or ‘related rights’. Moral rights have gained substantial recognition in copyright, especially with their inclusion in the Berne Convention. 
The foregoing, a continuation of my lectures on copyright, is adapted from my book, “Copyright & the New Millionaires”
About the author 
Tony Okoroji is a writer and author, he has numerous publications to his name. 
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For knowledge and Justice

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