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Moral Rights

Broadly speaking, the set of rights in a work that give control over the existence or fate of a work, rather than over its economic exploitation.

Moral rights (a translation of the French concept “droit moral”) in a creative work are the corollary to the economic rights. They represent the rights in a work that are inherent in its status as a creative work and in its relationship with its creator. While they are statutorily reinforced, they typically are thought of as existing on their own. That is, they are much closer to being “natural” rights. Perhaps because of the nature of the rights, they are more often associated with visual works, such as painting or sculpture, than with “informational” works, such as texts.

The Berne Convention explicitly recognizes moral rights, but U.S. law does not officially recognize moral rights, which is an ongoing source of tension between U.S. law and that of other Berne Convention members. The U.S, maintains that its laws have sufficient provisions in place, such as the Visual Artists Rights Act, to accommodate moral rights.

Article 6bis (1) of the Berne convention reads:

“ (1) Independently of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.”

The enumeration of moral rights varies from country to country, but they are most often listed as:

  • The right of paternity -- to claim authorship (or disclaim it, in the event of unauthorized change).
  • The right of integrity -- to approve of or object to any modification, distortion or change to the work.
  • The right of withdrawal -- to remove a work from the public sphere at will.
  • The right of release -- the right to control when a work is seen by the public.

Other resources:

Mortenson Center

The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs

The Center was founded in 1991 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

According to its website, “The Mortenson Center and the Mortenson Distinguished Professorship seek to strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians, regardless of geographic location or access to technology.”

Individuals at the Mortenson Center participated in the initial testing of this curriculum.


Neighboring Rights

The rights of people who have participated in the creation of a copyrighted work, but who did not “write” it, and for a variety of reasons do not normally qualify for traditional forms of copyright.

Neighboring rights are copyrights that exist adjacent to more traditional author’s copyrights, and are granted to a few specific categories of person. The term most often refers to. Examples might include the sound engineers at a recording studio, the performers of a musical composition, or a broadcast organization.

Neighboring rights as such do not exist in all copyright law systems. Some jurisdictions subsume them within “copyright” in general without treating them as any different.

As just one example, the Rome Convention explicitly addresses the rights of performers and producers of sound recordings.

See also:

Other resources:


Open Access

Open access is a term describing an information resource that is open to all.

It also refers to a movement within the academic community dedicated to making scholarly research more accessible, rather than hidden behind a price or permission barriers.

“Open access” journals are not necessarily free, since they may charge a fee for maintenance costs, or to compensate authors, but typically an open access resource is free to all to read and use. Journals that ask for some payment are sometimes called “hybrid” access journals.

Harvard University recently adopted a policy where all of its faculty are permitted and encouraged to make their research available as open access. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has an open access policy requiring all research conducted with public funding to make its results open access, at least after a short interval of exclusivity.

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Original expression

Original expression refers to a creator’s original, copyrightable, creative work.

This is in contrast to any later derivative works, other later work that in some way incorporates the original work, or work that isn’t original at all. Expression that is not original cannot qualify for copyright.

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Orphan works

Orphan works are creative works that are still under copyright protection, but for which it is either impossible or prohibitively difficult to identify the copyright holder.

This is most often a problem with photographs on the Internet, but arises with other types of works as well. Since the works are under copyright, permission is need to use them, but since the rights-holder cannot be found, no permission can be obtained. This puts these works into a sort of limbo. People want to make use of them, but usually won’t for fear of liability, and the works cannot pass into the public domain until the term of their copyright expires.

The settlement with the Author’s Guild in the Google Book Search lawsuit contains controversial provisions for orphan works, although it does not refer to them by that term. These terms are the subject of much debate and opposition worldwide.

Orphan works legislation has also been proposed at several different times in the U.S. Congress.

Other resources:



Making it possible for others to simultaneously experience a copyrighted work.

The right to perform a work publicly is one of the basic rights granted to a copyright holder. Public performance covers a wide range of activity, and the law addressing this tends to be quite complex and fact specific. Putting on a play, reading a book aloud to an audience, or playing a music recording at a club are all public performances.

The limits of the ability or right of a rightsholder to control public performances can under scrutiny in 2009 when, among other incidents, a representative of ASCAP, the American Society for Composers, Artists and Performers asserted his belief that ASCAP should be able to charge licensing fees for cell-phone ring-tones, since whenever the phone rang it was a “public performance” of the underlying musical work. Critics accused ASCAP of merely trying to get a piece of the lucrative ringtone market.

In another controversial episode, The Authors Guild of America asserted that the text-to-speech function of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader constituted a public performance when it was activated, since the book was “read” aloud. Although Amazon asserted that the text-to-speech function was completely legal, it nevertheless acquiesced to authors’ demands by making the function work on a title by title basis. Some publishers immediately chose to disable that function for their e-books. Both Amazon’s actions and those of the publishers drew heavy criticism from disabled persons’ rights groups.

Other resources:


Broadly, any infringement of copyright by copying, or copyright-related theft.

Despite the images it may evoke of ocean-going bearded villains with swords, when it comes to copyright law, piracy is a catch-all term, used to describe many different sorts of copyright infringement, and all types of illegal copying.

Some analysts have pointed to and criticized a semantic trend from using piracy to describe only large-scale copying for commercial gain to using, to describe any unauthorized of copying.

But, the fact remains that common usage uses the term piracy to describe not only organizations making hundreds of thousands of counterfeit DVDs, but also to describe peer-to-peer file sharing and at-home, individual personal copying, which may or may not be fair use, depending on who is doing the analysis.

The content industry sees illegal copying as a very serious threat, which may account for their routine usage of such a loaded word, perhaps in an attempt to impute the traits of the very worst sorts of copying to all of it.

Other resources


The use of another’s work without citation or accreditation, with the intent of passing it off as one’s own.

Plagiarism is a type of copying, but is not necessarily copyright infringement. Therefore, it would be possible to have a situation in which use of someone else’s work was not a copyright infringement (the use was fair, the work was in the public domain, the user had permission) but was still plagiarism, because the user did not acknowledge the true author of the work in question. Although such a use would be legal, it would be unethical.

Copying and giving appropriate credit is not plagiarism, but could still be copyright infringement.

Other resources:

Public Domain

The great mass of creative work to which no one holds copyright. The world’s common cultural resources and heritage.

In copyright law, the public domain can be thought of as those creative works to which everyone has access, and over which no one has exclusive control. Some works in the public domain were created prior to any formal legal system of copyright. Some works in the public domain were once under copyright, but the term of those copyrights has expired, allowing the work to pass into the public domain. The length of time before a work passes into the public domain depends on when a work was created, and the copyright regime in place at the time.

The public domain has been an issue in several recent copyright controversies, including the Google Book Search settlement and a German man who was uploading photographs of public domain artworks to Wikipedia

Dedication To

A creator can, if he or she wants to, choose to waive the copyright in his or her work by deliberately dedicating it to the public domain. Once this is done, the creator can no longer claim the privileges conferred by copyright, and any member of the public may make use of the work.

Other resources:

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