Moral rights of Artists

angelou1Prof. Mira Sundara Rajan, Professor of IP Law at the University of Glasgow, recently wrote a guest post in IPKat, regarding the right of attribution under US copyright law in the context of the Maya Angelou stamp released by the US Postal Service. The US Postal Service had released a commemorative stamp of Maya Angelou with the accompanying quotation: ” A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” The US Postal service stated that they chose this quote as it had been cited often by Ms. Angelou and since it provided a connection to Ms. Angelou’s auto biography, ‘I know why the caged bird sings’. However, it turns out that the quotation was not actually authored by Ms. Angelou and their true authoress was Joan Walsh Anglund.  The interesting part of this story is that the USPS is going forward with the stamp, even after the truth of the quotation’s origin was brought to their notice. Prof. Sundarajan argues that this is possible in the US as the US does not recognize the right of attribution.

India on the other hand, recognizes the right of attribution as well as the right of integrity under S. 57, Copyright Act, 1957. This essentially means that the Postal Department in India would not be able to get away with such a misquote as Ms. Anglund has a right to claim authorship for the same. (As an aside, Ms. Anglund has reacted to the issue stating that she is a fan of Ms. Angelou and that she hopes the stamp will be successful) The recognition of moral rights for artists is an extremely important issue, as the reputation of artists are closely connected to their artistic output even after they have assigned to a third party. In India, recently there have been many complaints by artists that their sculptures and other works of art have faced mutilation at the hands of private parties or government authorities.  For instance, Artist Jatin Das’s ‘Flight of Steel’ at the Bhilai Steel Plant was taken down, stripped and relocated to the Bhilai Zoo. (source: The Hindu) The article, published in The Hindu also has records of other similar instances and states that some artists are planning legal action. In such a context, where India explicitly recognizes moral rights, the author opines that the authors are likely to be successful in their action.


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3 thoughts on “Moral rights of Artists”

  1. The fact asserted here that US Copyright Law does not recognize right of attribution under moral rights is not entirely true.

    Moral Rights (including the right to attribution) are well recognized under The Visual Artists Rights Act. See link to provision here:

    I fail to understand how Prof. Rajan has forgotten about VARA and stated that US Copyright Law does not recognize moral rights of artists. Please explain if I am missing something here.

    1. I don’t think I could forget VARA in my sleep! The point is, VARA applies only to works of visual art. What is involved here is the misattribution of a quotation – words. No U.S. protection for attribution here – at least, not in the copyright law. Hope this helps to clarify. All the best, Mira

  2. Its a good read raising a debate on the right of attribution as well as the right of integrity. This may prompt harmonization of laws governing this area. Though it may be tough to penetrate some governments in some jurisdictions..I liked it

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