moral rights tests curatorial practice tests moral rights

For the last decade the recognition of the “moral rights” of artists has been incorporated into Australian Copyright legislation. The Arts Law Centre of Australia’s excellent website provides a plain English guide to these issues (and many others) here.

As explained at the Arts Law Centre’s site:

Moral rights are personal rights that connect authors to their work. Though they exist only in relation to copyright material, they are distinct from the economic rights included in copyright.

Moral rights arise automatically and have a legal meaning. There are three types of moral rights:

• Right of attribution: this is the right of an author to be identified and named as the author of his/her work;

• Right against false attribution: this is the right of an author to prevent others to be identified and named as the author of his/her work; and

• Right of integrity: this is the right of an author to ensure that his/her work is not subjected to derogatory treatment. The Copyright Act defines “derogatory treatment” as any act in relation to the work that is in any manner harmful to the author’s honour or reputation.

In a previous post your Iconophile listed 11 modes of curatorial practice which test the boundaries of “derogatory treatment”. Of course it is a brave artist who will challenge the assumed authority of the institutions of the art world by challenging the right of a curator to meddle with the “treatment” of their work. What actually constitutes “derogatory treatment” or harm to the artist’s “honour or reputation” has seldom been put to the test in case law, in order to draw some lines in the sand. And clearly neither expression is quite the same as intent and meaning, which lie at the core of artistic practice… Nevertheless, if a work of art is to retain its distinctive originality and value, the distinction between agency and authority is worth exploring in relation to such issues. In future posts I will look at some case studies of the question of attribution.


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