Moral Rights - It's Personal

by © Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
Originally published in The Celebrant, Issue 8, June 2021, pp 8-13
Republished 09/03/2023 with the permission of the Editor.
Categories: | Published Article |  Wedding Ceremony | Inclusive Weddings
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A word to non-celebrant readers

The 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 prose.

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 honour.
Like copyright, moral rights kick in the minute you create a “work”, regardless of whether that “work” is subsequently published or not.

Why inalienable


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 videoed.

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 created?


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 author/creator.

How long do your moral rights last?

In 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.

What happens when you die?

Because 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 advice.

What about celebrants behaving badly?

Not 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”.

What redress do you have if someone infringes your moral rights?

If 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.

What about a celebrant's rights as a performer?

In addition to your rights as the creator of the ceremony script, you may (depending on the country you live in) have moral rights as a performer when you read, recite, or deliver a literary “work” or part of a literary “work”, whether or not you are the author/creator of that work.  It is worth noting that performers rights only apply if you are contributing to the sound of the live performance – speaking, singing, or playing a musical instrument.

The bottom line

Moral rights are personal rights that go hand in hand with copyright, an economic right, but are not in lockstep with it. Infringement of your copyright can cause you pain and some loss of income in relation a particular “work”. It can also negatively impact on how Google and other search engines deal with your website or blog, resulting in a loss of visibility. Infringement of your moral rights can have a devastating impact on your reputation.

A footnote

This article was written before the celebrants started to get all excited about the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence tools to write ceremonies. So the whole question of moral rights as they might apply to bot-written works has not been tested in court. However, I think it is fair to say that the standard of integrity expected and required of a celebrant would preclude any celebrant claiming sole authorship and copyright over a work written by a bot. At the very least, assuming that there was some celebrant input, the bot should be acknowledged as co-creator!

Thanks for reading!

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                        Jennifer Cram
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