Authors’ Rights Basics


What are Authors’ rights?

Authors’ rights protect the intellectual property of creators, the people who
– gather,
– produce and
– disseminate information.

There are two kinds of rights: economic rights and moral rights.


– Economic rights help to determine the level of payment or wages paid to media professionals, whether freelance or employees.

– Moral rights give authors authority over the integrity of the information they provide. Paternity, the right of publication and false attribution are all covered by moral rights.

There is a strong link between authors’ rights and journalists’ codes of professional conduct. Journalists are committed to uphold media ethics. They are personally liable for the material they create, but to be liable they need to know how their material is going to be used.

For this reason, moral rights must be protected in Europe’s information society. A common set of harmonised standards should apply.

But harmonisation at the lowest level – such as in the United Kingdom where moral rights are virtually non-existent – would be useless. To guarantee quality and authenticity of information, Europe needs standards of excellence at the highest level.

Problems exist in Europe because there are two legal traditions applied to authors’ rights:


– First, there is the copyright concept. This applies in the United States where by law copyright is vested in an individual author or the employer or customer if the work is created on an employment basis or is commissioned. It is a system also followed in some European countries — in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The copyright concept is based on the expropriation of authors’ rights. Authors are effectively denied the right to recompense for the increased economic exploitation of their work. They have little control over the manipulation and distortion of their creations.

– The second tradition is the continental European system of authors’ rights which provides a very different approach. In most countries rights stay with the individual author. These rights are recognised and paid for. When material is used again in another media environment, authors have the right to be consulted as to how it is used and to receive extra payment.

The continental European concept gives the individual creator the freedom to transfer the rights of use by contract.

This system works well for employers who can acquire rights for their core business activity and new technology uses according to a settled system of negotiation. It also makes it possible for journalists to live up to high personal and professional standards.

It is a far better system to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.


Author’s Rights: A Manual For Journalists