Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


Becca E. Davis


This paper seeks to establish that the United States has a quasi-obligation to enact comprehensive moral rights legislation to remain compliant with the minimum protection standards set forth by the Berne Convention of 1886. In order to alleviate the anticipated economic and societal concerns stemming from this idea, this paper presents musical compositions as the initial work of authorship to receive moral rights, gradually easing the United States’ transition into full compliance with the Berne Convention. Part I of this paper will cover a brief history of music law in the United States, focusing on how the exclusive rights granted by copyright manifest themselves within the music publishing industry. Part II of this paper dives into moral rights, particularly the rights of attribution and integrity, and how they differ from economic rights. It focuses on how the United States’ current moral rights legislation diverges from the more robust legislation of other countries, and analyzes possible motivations for this divergence. Part III of this paper discusses the necessity of moral rights protection for songwriters, discussing the unique disadvantages songwriters face in the music publishing industry. It explores how current United States law lacks a sufficient substitute for comprehensive moral rights legislation and analyzes the improbability of a detrimental economic impact should moral rights be granted to musical compositions. Finally, Part IV will conclude by arguing the moral rights legislation adopted by the Berne Convention’s international community have rendered the United States’ current moral rights legislation inadequate to comply with the Berne Convention’s minimum protection standards. Although the minimum protection language has remained the same, the way that member countries have chosen to implement that language has arguably heightened the standards to which countries party to the Convention are held. In short, actions speak louder than words, and the United States’ actions are not sufficient. As Marvin Gaye put it: “Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some understanding here today.”