When moral rights go wrong


I am becoming rather ambivalent about moral rights, which goes against my Civil Law upbringing. I believe that moral right of attribution is a good thing, but that the moral right of integrity can be difficult to apply, and when it is it may prove more trouble than it’s worth.

This is an excellent article in the New Yorker on the issue of the eccentric Stephen Joyce, grandson of the famous Irish writer of the same surname. It seems like Stephen has been wielding his moral rights as a weapon since the 1980’s, threatening to sue critics that he disagrees with. He has also been using this tool to get invited to Joyce panels, conferences and symposia (without paying fees of course).

Now an academic is fighting Stephen’s lock on the estate with the help of Larry Lessig. Carol Loeb Shloss is arguing for fair use in research and scholarship, and in my opinion she has a good case.

This offers the interesting legal opportunity to review just how much power do estates hold. For those interested in this issue, there is an excellent article by Matthew Rimmer in a previous issue of SCRIPTed on this very same topic.

Comments 1

  1. Yes—the concept of "moral right" rather obscures the simple process of value negotiation that underlies all information exchange. That negotiation might be partially crystalised within legal frameworks and social morés, but it's still negotiation, albeit with a collective aspect.

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