Copyright Office brushes off our call for “moral rights” legislation

Rejecting recommendations from the National Writers Union (NWU) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the US Copyright Office has ended a two-year policy study by concluding that no significant new legislation is called for to protect authors’ moral rights to attribution (bylines or credit as authors) and to the integrity of our works.

The concluding report by the Copyright Office acknowledged the initial and reply comments submitted by the NWU, and the comments from IFJ (one of only two international or non-US organizations to intervene in the consultation). But the Copyright Office brushed off or ignored our arguments that the “moral rights” of authors:

  1.  Are recognized by an international treaty, the Berne Convention on Copyright, which the US has ratified but has failed to enact legislation to implement (in this as well as in other respects);
  2. Are vital to authors’ ability to earn a livelihood as well as to the moral  and human-rights interests reflected in the label, “moral rights”; and
  3.  Are vital to the ability of the reading public to assess the credibility of sources (impossible, of course, if sourced are unattributed) and to distinguish between journalism and disinformation.

We are disappointed by the failure of the Copyright Office to recognize the need for moral rights legislation. A moral rights law is needed to fulfil US treaty obligations, protect authors’ human rights and livelihoods, and protect the ability of the public to judge sources and the substance of written works (in their integretity) to decide which of the things they read to believe, and which not to believe.

We also recognize, however, that the role of the Copyright Office in interpreting international treaties is only advisory. The responsibility remains on the Congress, which ratified the Berne Convention, to enact legislation to fulfil the international obligations the US has thus taken on.

We will continue to urge the US Congress to enact simple, straightforward legislation to create a cause of action in Federal courts for violations of the moral rights or authors. And we will continue to encourage our counterparts in other countries that are parties to the Berne Convention to lobby their governments to bring complaints against the US for its failure fulfil its treaty obligations to provide redress for violations of moral rights and to abolish formalities such as copyright registration as a prerequisite to redress for infringement of copyright.