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What Are the Rights Protected by Copyright?

Uriel is an intellectual property lawyer, a fiction writer, and a language enthusiast.

In a previous article titled "Copyright Law Principles for Authors," I explained basic notions of copyright and defined copyright law as a set of rules established to protect original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. I equally went into the concepts of ownership, licensing, and assignment.

The above-mentioned are central to the types of rights that a person—be it an individual or a company—may have over a copyrighted work. While the owner of a creation has all rights over the same, a licensee or an assignee's rights are, more often than not, limited by the scope of their agreement with the owner(s).

There are two types of rights under copyright: moral and economic rights. With clear descriptions and examples, I will explain the meaning of each type of rights, as well as their implication for the owner, the licensee, or the assignee.

Moral rights protect the author's association with their creative work by preserving the integrity of the work and intent behind the work. They allow authors and creators to take certain actions to preserve and protect their link with their work.

Moral rights can be divided into two categories: the rights of attribution and the rights of integrity.

The Rights of Attribution and Association

  • The right of attribution (also referred to as the right of paternity) is the author's ability to name himself or herself as the author of their work publicly, and to have their name appear in any relevant authorship sections of the work (i.e., credits of a film, signature of the artist on a painting, name of an author on a literary work, etc.). This same right entitles the author to remain anonymous if they so choose.
  • The right of association is an author's prerogative to choose in what contexts and in association with which causes their creative work is used. This allows an author to claim moral rights infringement and seek relief if their work is used in a way that tarnishes their good name or reputation.

The Right of Integrity

This refers to the author's ability to preserve the intended meaning of their work. This includes the right to protect a work from being distorted or altered in any way without the author's permission or from being used in a derogatory way.

Copyright laws help ensure owners of ideas can get financial compensation when their work is used by others.

Copyright laws help ensure owners of ideas can get financial compensation when their work is used by others.

Economic rights allow copyright owners to derive financial rewards from the use of their works by others. They allow the owner of a copyright-protected work to decide how to use their work and to prevent others from using it without permission.

Most state laws stipulate that copyright owners can authorize or prohibit:

  • reproduction of the work in various forms, such as printed publications;
  • distribution of copies of the work;
  • public performance of the work;
  • broadcasting or other communication of the work to the public;
  • translation of the work into other languages; and
  • adaptation of the work, such as turning a novel into a screenplay.

A copyright owner can transfer all or part of their rights to authorize or prohibit certain acts to an individual or a company named assignee. The process of transfer in this case will be called an assignment. The assignee becomes the copyright owner if all economic rights were transferred to them, or simply a right holder if part of the rights were transferred. Considering that copyright rights are divisible, it is possible to have multiple rights owners in the same work.

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To better understand the concept of assignment, let us take the example of a writer who fully assigns their economic rights over the reproduction and adaptation of their book to their publisher. This means that any further decision as to the printing and adaptation of that book will no longer require the permission of the author, but that of the publisher. In other words, the publisher will be able to authorize a third party to reproduce or adapt the book without seeking the author's consent. The author will, however, retain control over the rights not assigned to the publisher.

I think copyright is moral, proper. I think a creator has the right to control the disposition of his or her works.

— Esther Dyson

How Licensing Works

A copyright owner may also transfer their economic right for a specific time and purpose through a process called licensing. Under this type of transfer, the copyright owner retains ownership but authorizes a third party to carry out certain acts covered by the economic rights, generally for a specific period and purpose.

Using the illustration above, if the author of a book gives a license to their publisher to reproduce and adapt their book, this does not give the publisher any right whatsoever to authorize or prohibit a third party from carrying out the acts they were licensed to. A licensee can only carry out the acts they were authorized to do by the copyright owner. More so, unless a license is exclusive, it does not normally prevent the author from authorizing others to carry out the same licensed acts.

A Summary of the Types of Rights

CategorySubcategoryWho Can Exercise This Right?

Moral Rights

Right of paternity and right of integrity.


Economic Rights

Right to authorize and prohibit reproduction, distribution, rental, importation, public performance, broadcasting, communication to the public, translation and adaptation.

Author/Owner and Assignee

Economic Rights

Right to reproduce, distribute, import, publicly perform, broadcast, translate or adapt a work.

Owner, Assignee, Licensee

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Uriel Eliane


Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on July 31, 2020:

Thanks very much! Happy to know you enjoyed the reading.

bhattuc on July 30, 2020:

Well researched article. Nice reading.

Uriel Eliane (author) from Toronto on July 05, 2020:

Thanks for reading and for your comment, Lisha! I'm glad you found it useful.

Lisha C on July 04, 2020:

This is an informative article, Uriel. The types of rights are well explained and easy to comprehend.

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