The term moral rights in the United States typically refers to the right or ability of creators of certain works of visual art (e.g., paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs) to control the eventual fate of such works. In Europe and elsewhere, an artist’s moral rights are much broader and not limited to visual art. Moral rights protect the personal and reputational, rather than purely monetary, value of a work to its creator. The right of attribution and the right of integrity (i.e., right to prevent revision, defacement, alteration, or distortion of the work, regardless of who owns it) are two primary rights of authors of works of visual art that are protected in the U.S. under various federal and state laws including protection through an amendment in the U.S. Copyright Act by the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”) of 1990 (17 USC § 106A). These rights are not transferable by license or assignment, but can be waived in writing by the author.
The moral of the story–when acquiring a copyrighted work, don’t forget to have the artist waive any moral rights in the work.