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Kristin Lingren Explores Global Copyright as Contributor to Moral Rights


VSA’s General Counsel Kristin Lingren recently authored several chapters in a legal treatise on one of the most globally diverse legal concepts: moral rights law. As legal counsel for VSA, Kristin needs to know copyright and moral rights law inside and out, and we were curious to learn how her authorship has challenged and shaped her work.

Q: In a few words, what are moral rights?

Despite what you might think, moral rights have nothing to do with ethics or morality!

While copyright law protects a creator’s right to publish and financially benefit from a published work, moral rights protect the creator’s personal and reputational rights by giving the creator a limited ability to control the fate of the work, even after it (or its copyright) is sold. For example, an artist who has sold her sculpture to a local government may have moral rights that allow her to prevent the sculpture from later being changed by another artist.

Most commonly, moral rights give a creator the right to determine how and when she will be identified or associated with a work when it is published (this is the “right of attribution”), and the right to object to any distortion or modification of a work that would damage the creator’s reputation (“right of integrity”).

Q: This is the second time you’ve contributed to an edition of Moral Rights. What sets this version apart from the last, and what inspired you to take on this project again?

The first edition, published in 2010, was the first major legal treatise focusing on this aspect of copyright law. This edition captures six years of changes in the legal landscape of moral rights and expands its international coverage, too. The topic of moral rights is fascinating, so I was delighted to refresh the chapters I previously wrote on the U.S., Canada and Japan. Plus, as a photographer in my free time, I have a personal interest in understanding my rights. Did you know that a garden in Chicago’s own Grant Park was the focus of one of the relatively few federal moral rights cases decided in the U.S.? Kelley v. Chicago Park District (7th Circuit 2011).

Q: The United States’ moral rights laws are quite different from most countries. What sets them apart, and why do we do things differently than most?

The U.S. is no superpower on this front.  We offer relatively weak protection for moral rights, and most legal commentators agree that the U.S. should do more. France and Germany probably afford the most robust protections. I think the U.S. stance results from its strong recognition of the individuals’ rights to use their own property as they see fit. This conflicts with the concept that a creator should be able to control use of his creative work in certain ways, even after sale.

Q: How has understanding various copyright laws around the world influenced the ways you practice law at VSA?

It’s been extremely valuable. VSA has many international clients, and VSA’s work can be seen all around the world. Copyright law touches all aspects of my practice.

Q: What are the major ways that moral rights influence trends in marketing, branding and advertising?

In the U.S., moral rights have a minimal effect. The federal Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) gives creators of certain works of visual—such as paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs—limited rights of attribution and integrity, but at the end of the day, VARA generally will only apply to works of fine art, not art used commercially (such as in advertising). Additionally, provisions in standard advertising contracts often eliminate any remaining moral rights—at least in the U.S.

Internationally, the landscape is much different, and consideration must be given to potential infringement issues and to complex questions of jurisdiction and cross-border enforcement.

Before joining VSA, Kristin was a partner with the law firm Mandell Menkes and began her legal career with Lord, Bissell & Brook (now Locke Lord LLP). Kristin has spoken and written extensively on copyright and related IP and commercial matters for businesses and creatives, including as a contributor to Trade Marks Law & Practice (UK law). Kristin received her JD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an LLM with honors from the London School of Economics. Kristin also is a qualified Solicitor in England and Wales (non-practicing).  In her spare time, Kristin is an avid traveler, photographer and scuba diver.