Creators' Rights Alliance - Between a rock and a hard place - B: Why these abuses need correcting
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Creators' rights are human rights

Article 27(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 states:[1]

“Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is author.”

Although the UDHR was advisory or aspirational in nature, over time it has come to have the status of customary international law. After its passage the UN planned a number of more specific treaties binding the countries that ratified them. One such instrument was the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 (and ratified by 147 states). Like Article 27 of the UDHR, Article 15 of the Covenant similarly declares:[2]

“the States Parties to the covenant recognize in everyone the right … to enjoy the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”

According to these definitions, copyright protection is granted not because we think the public will benefit from copyright but simply because we think it is ‘right’ or proper to recognize this property.[3]because such productions emanate from the mind of an individual author. For example, a poem is seen as the product of a poet’s mind, their intellectual effort and inspiration, and an expression of their personality. As Dame Antonia Byatt expressed it at the CRA conference in March 2001, a person’s work IS that person. As a public we know authors, directors, photographers and composers through their work. On the assumption that a work is created by an individual, and reflects that individual’s uniqueness, natural rights arguments require that we recognize the production as the exclusive property of its creator: in the words of an ancient aphorism, ‘to every cow its calf.’ The corollary of this is that to copy another’s work is a usurpation of their property, equivalent to theft, as well as an imposition on their personality. Copyright is the positive law’s realization of this self-evident, ethical precept. More specifically, we believe it is right to recognize a property in intellectual productions.

The treatment of creators’ rights as human rights has a number of consequences. Most importantly, like other human rights, such as the right to equal treatment of men and women, creators’ rights (as human rights) should not be capable of outright transfer, so the law should always acknowledge a moral and economic link between a creator and their work. To reiterate, the rights are for authors (not exploiters) to enjoy the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any production. In turn, this conception has two key components. First, creators should receive protection of their material interests resulting from their production: that is, be entitled to ongoing, equitable, proportional remuneration from the economic exploitation of their work: ‘payment for use’. Second, creators should receive protection of their moral interests: that is, creators should always be able to prevent dishonourable alteration of their works, and be associated with their works.



[1] General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III), 12 December 1948.

[2] General Assembly Resolution 2200 A (XXI) of 16 December 1966. reprinted in 6 International Legal Materials 360 (1967). This entered into force on 3 January 1976. Countries which have ratified the covenant include the UK but not the USA.

[3] A. Schelin, ‘Intervention’ at EC Strasbourg Conference on Management and Legitimate Use of Copyright, (9-11 July 2000), (“It is the opinion of the EFJ … that this legislative state of affairs in the UK and Ireland is an infringement of the journalists’ and photographers’ human rights”); J. Correa, ‘Moral Rights of Audiovisual Work’, EC Strasbourg Conference on Management and Legitimate Use of Copyright, (9-11 July 9 2000), (“Moral rights are a personal right. Its holders cannot abandon these rights, just as they cannot relinquish their right to honour or to life.”) Cf. P. Drahos, ‘Intellectual Property and Human Rights’ (1999) Intellectual Property Quarterly 349 (arguing that its difficult to see how intellectual property rights can be classified as fundamental human rights); M. Vivant, ‘Authors’ Rights, Human Rights?’ (1997) 174 Revue Internationale de Droit d’auteur 60 (examining whether authors’ rights are human rights because they are property rights, or independently because works are creations and concluding that the assertion ‘authors’ rights are human rights’ is unproven and preferring the argument that ‘authors rights should be human rights, if we want them to be.’)

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