A word to
original article (below) was written for an audience
of celebrants. It does, however, explain why your
celebrant will acknowledge the author of any poem or
reading used in your ceremony.
DISCLAIMER: The content of
this article is intended to provide a general guide
and heads-up to celebrants about the basics of
copyright and moral rights. You should familiarize
yourself with the specific intellectual property
legislation in your own country.
Your moral rights are a matter of your reputation
and social proof. For a celebrant, these things are
everything. So what exactly are your moral rights,
how did/do you acquire them, what is the potential
result if someone infringes them, and what can you
do about it?
What are Moral Rights?
Moral rights are the Johnny-come-lately to the
Copyright Law scene. Unlike Copyright Moral Rights
protect the personal relationship between the person
who creates the “work” and the “work” itself. For
celebrants a ““work”” is most likely to be the
script for a ceremony or a poem or piece of poetic
What this means is that
- You have an inalienable right of
attribution – to be identified and named
as the author of your “work”
- You have an inalienable right against false
attribution – to stop someone else being
credited as the author of your “work”
- You have an inalienable right of integrity
- to ensure that your “work” is not subjected to
derogatory treatment. Derogatory treatment
includes anything that someone might do to your
“work” that is prejudicial to your reputation or
Like copyright, moral rights kick in the minute you
create a “work”, regardless of whether that “work”
is subsequently published or not.
You cannot assign your moral rights in a “work” to
anyone else. So you can’t sell or give them away.
But you can waive them by agreeing not to enforce
them. This distinction is particularly important for
celebrants who give couples a full copy of the
script, or agree to allow the ceremony to be
What if you are working
for someone else?
Let’s say you are a “staff celebrant” for a
business, perhaps a funeral home or wedding venue.
While you will not own the copyright of any ceremony
you create as part of your employment, unless your
contract says you do, your moral rights are yours
alone. A corporation has no moral rights in any
“work” that might be created for it. However, if a
“work” is created by a group of individuals, they
may be able to claim moral rights as co-creators.
And both an individual and a group of co-creators
can waive their moral rights in a “work” or “works”
created in the course of employment.
What do you have to do to
assert your moral rights in a “work” you have
In Australia, where I live and “work”, there is no
need to assert moral rights. However, many other
legal jurisdictions, including the UK, require that
you formally assert your moral rights in order to
enforce them. So best practice is to include in your
contracts (and on your website and every ceremony
script) a formal statement that you have asserted
your moral rights to be acknowledged as the
How long do
your moral rights last?
most legal jurisdictions, how long an individual’s
moral rights last depends on the type of “work”, and
the type of moral right in question.
The right of attribution and the right against false
attribution usually continue in force until
copyright expires (generally 70 years after your
death, although in some jurisdictions, such as
France and Spain some moral rights are
perpetual). The same applies to the right of
integrity, except for a cinematograph film.
when you die?
moral rights can’t be bought or sold or given away,
in some jurisdictions you can’t transfer them to
another person in your will, but in others you can
pass them down to a beneficiary in your will in
order to protect your legacy and your moral right
against false attribution can be exercised after
your death by your personal representative for
example, the executor or administrator of your
estate. As with everything else to do with estate
planning, it is highly advisable to seek expert
celebrants behaving badly?
to put too fine a point on it, celebrants can be
very cavalier about attribution and false
attribution. It is not OK to use a reading in a
ceremony without accurately attributing the author.
It is not OK to attribute it to Unknown or Anonymous
because you copied it from someone who failed to
properly attribute. And it is not OK to
significantly edit or change a reading, use
“borrowed vows” or help yourself to all or part of a
ceremony written by someone else without attribution
unless the creator has specifically given permission
or has waived their moral rights in that “work”.
do you have if someone infringes your
someone has infringed your moral rights you have the
right to make them stop, publicly correct any false
attribution, and cease or reverse any derogatory
treatment of the “work”. A court could order payment
of damages and a public apology. But most of us are
not likely to go to court, so your first step would
be a “cease and desist” letter.
However, the person concerned may well invoke a
defence of “reasonableness” and may be deemed to not
have breached your moral rights of attribution and
integrity if what they did was reasonable “in the
circumstances”. The difficulty is that whether or
not what they did passes the test of reasonableness
differs depending on the context. The good news for
creators is that false attribution is never deemed
to be reasonable no matter what the circumstances.