Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Moral Imperative

Last week, wearing a Royal Photographic Society hat, I went along to a seminar on moral rights. This was organised by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (SABIP) and aimed to discuss the international perspective on the subject.

Now as I'm sure you remember, moral rights are an adjunct to the economic right of copyright. Rather than your right to control and earn money from your creations, moral rights protect your artistic integrity. They are relatively new to UK law but long-standing in countries like France.

The seminar was interesting and often too technical to go into in detail here but I wanted to flag a couple of things.

The first thing is the subject of attribution. I argued that all other rights stem from this; if you are not known as the author/creator then how are you going to exploit your work or protect its (and your) integrity (another important moral right). UK law does convey a right of attribution but it has to be asserted ... you have to say you assert your right to be identified as the creator of your work. You can, by 'agreement' waive your right of attribution in contract (it doesn't apply to things you do in the course of employment) and there is a big exception for reporting news and current affairs. This latter point is seen by some as something the newspaper and web publishers take advantage of regularly.

In some countries you can't waive your moral rights ... they are yours and you are not allowed to give them up. I hope that the questions and discussions at the seminar made the point that authors need attribution ... you are only as good as your last credit, as they say in TV. Some publishers argue that their business model relies on no individual contributor being credited but, as someone else pointed out, countries like France still have newspapers and web sites. The days of stories being simply credited to 'our reporter' are long gone surely? (Mind you, I once knew a man who edited a girls magazine for a while in the 1960s and the editor was always called Pete Lennon, no matter who he really was ... that was the image.)

My second point is something that only occurred to me after the event, when I looked through the attendance list. There was no one representing software authors and programmers. (Someone was there from Microsoft but I don't count them.) There was no one from BIMA or the BCS or even the games industry.

There is an exception in UK moral rights for computer programs. The argument was that 'computer programs are always written by teams'. Well that is patently untrue and I suspect you only believe that if you have an old-fashioned view of programs and programmers. Personally I think programmers are as creative as the rest of us and deserve their moral rights ... a point I shall be raising with SABIP.

Any thoughts?