Moral rights best practices for language scientists

  • Researchers should properly attribute the authors of texts when ethically deemed appropriate.
  • Whatever research is performed on texts should not, as presented, subvert the message of the author's work.

In depth

Moral rights are rights of creators to protect the original meaning and message embodied in her work. Moral rights allow the creator to protect the integrity of the work, even if s/he has assigned their copyright to a third party. For instance, this may allow a creator to prevent the alteration, distortion, or mutilation of their work. Moral rights do not expire; they belong to the author and, after the author's death, to his/her heirs.

Moral rights have more importance in some jurisdictions (for instance, France) than in others (in the US they are recognized only in extremely limited circumstances).

Moral rights are strongly recognized and protected under German law. German law recognizes three primary types of moral rights:

  • the right of divulgation (§ 12 Abs. 2 UrhG) – according to which only the author can choose the first communication of the work to the public. The publication of an unpublished novel of a dead writer is therefore impossible without the consent of his heirs.
  • the right of disclosure (or attribution) (§ 13 UrhG) – according to which the author has the right of recognition of his authorship of the work. He may decide whether the work is to bear an author's designation and what designation is to be used.
  • the right of intergity (§ 14 Urhg) – according to which the author has the right to prohibit any distortion or any other mutilation of a work which would jeopardize the author's legitimate intellectual or personal interests in the work. (§ 11 UrhG).

Three key overviews of moral rights under German law that are written in English are

  • Adolf Dietz, "The Moral Right of the Author: Moral Rights and the Civil Law Countries", 19 Colum.-VLA J.L. & Arts 199 (1995)
  • Elizabeth Adeney, "The Moral Rights of Authors and Performers" (2006)
  • Aaron D. White, "The Copyright Tree: Using German Moral Rights as the Roots for Enhanced Authorship Protection in the United States", 9 Loy. Law & Tech. Ann. 30 (2009)

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