"The moral right of the author has been asserted"

What does this mean?

It’s in a book in the publishing information bit. I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but the book is written in character as, and attributed to on the cover, a character from a series of books (the writer of those books being the real author).

You’re not reading a Kilgour Trout novel, by any chance?

Under the Berne Convention, based on previously standing European law, artists have a moral right to the protection of their work.


The U.S. specifically omitted the moral rights clause when it signed the Berne Convention, so there is no equivalent in U.S. print copyright law. Visual media have more protection, as that page explains.

There was an example of moral rights being asserted in an artwork in Toronto several years ago. At the Eaton Centre, there’s a large number of small statues of Canada Geese suspended from the ceiling of one of the larger atriums, flying in formation.

One Christmas, the interior decorators for the Eaton Centre decided to put long red ribbons dangling from the geese’s necks. Thought it struck the right combination of festive and subliminal gift-buying encouragement, or something.

The artist who had made the geese sued successfully to have the ribbons taken off, because in the artist’s view, they cheapened the artistic integrity of his art. The court agreed and the Centre had to take the ribbons off.

Note that the Centre owned the geese, so it wasn’t a property right that was in issue - it was the artist’s moral right not to have his artistic integreity compromised.

I’m not familiar with this concept in the publishing world, but was taught its equivalent in art school. The sculptor David Smith had already died in a car crash when someone altered one of his pieces. It had originally been made of stainless steel with a jewelled (scoured with a wire brush into a decorative) pattern. The owner chose to hose the piece down with tractor-red paint.

Now, if you’re Andy Rooney and think modern art is all just shit anyway, so what? Then let me put a scenario for those of you who. like Rooney, require on a 500-years of received opinion to acknowlege what’s good art: lets say you made bajillions of dollars on a new snack food that projected a hip-hop video when you bite into it, and you can afford to buy the Mona Lisa. Well, you know you’re really really smart - just look at your bank account, and you decide it would be a good idea to re-paint Mona’s mouth to show some teeth. Should you be legally entitled to do so?

If the work was specifically comissioned by you: then yes. This lets Nelson Rockefeller off the hook for painting over Diego Rivera’s mural. But if an artist fufilled a commission to paint, say, the president of Holographic Snack Foods Ltd. in an allegorical portait steering a ship through stormy seas, and this president was replaced by a backstabbing underling, could underling have his head painted over the original’s? the answer is no. And if the art was made at the behest of the artist own muse: NO!

At some level, art is purely the product of the human soul, and as such it belongs to the collective human soul of all mankind. That sounds like twee bullshit, but try menacing a David Smith with a spraygun full of red paint. It could be conveyed to you by a New York State Trooper.

Before this law went into effect, there were stories of artists having friends distract the guards & docents of museums so that they could et ats their works in museum and alter those elements that had been keeping them awake nights. Tricky, but still easier for painters than those who work in bronze.

I’m remembering that scene in Frida where Rockefeller ordered Diego Rivera’s mural destroyed for its political content, because he owned the wall it was on—and I guess Rivera had no “moral rights” to his work.