Woody Allen broke onto the scene in 1966 with a film called What’s Up, Tiger Lily? He purchased a Japanese film called International Secret Police: Key of Keys. He deleted the soundtrack, and substituted in an entirely new story that had nothing to do with the original motion picture. As Allen explained, “I took out all the soundtrack. I knocked out all the voices, and I wrote a comedy….We put our comedy in where they were formally raping and looting. And the result is a movie where people are running around killing one another, and you know, doing all those James Bondian things, but what’s coming out of their mouth is something wholly other.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QgABL5DvQA
If Allen wanted to produce and distribute What’s Up, Tiger Lily? today, what rights would he need to secure? Allen bought the Japanese film outright. So he controlled the copyright. But another set of creator’s rights transcend and dwell on beyond the copyright. These rights are known as “moral rights”. Moral rights protect the creator’s reputation. They include the rights of integrity and attribution. The right of integrity prevents the mutilation of a work that would besmirch the creator’s reputation. The right of attribution allows the creator to put the creator’s name on a work, or remove it from a work (think Sydney “Paddy” Chayefsky and Altered States). These rights are inalienable, and even survive the creator’s demise. Maybe. Sort of. Well….
Moral rights are protected under Article 6bis of the Berne Convention. The US is a signatory to the Berne Convention. However, under US law, Article 6bis doesn’t actually convey or secure any rights. Section 104(c) of the Copyright Act (17 USC Sec. 104(c)) provides:
(c) Effect of Berne Convention. - No right or interest in a work
eligible for protection under this title may be claimed by virtue of, or in reliance upon,
the provisions of the Berne Convention, or the adherence of the United States thereto.
Any rights in a work eligible for protection under this title that derive from this title,
other Federal or State statutes, or the common law, shall not be expanded or reduced by
virtue of, or in reliance upon, the provisions of the Berne Convention, or the adherence of
the United States thereto.
The creator of a visual work of art, however, has “moral rights” under Section 106A including
attribution and the right to “prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification
of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation…”. Unfortunately,
under US law, writers are not granted similar protections. If an author is concerned about moral
rights protection in the US, the publishing contract needs to address the issue specifically.