Different Types of Author’s Rights

by Syamsuriatina Ishak

Copyright holders generally, and authors specifically, enjoy different types of rights under the law for the literary works they have created, and these can typically be categorized into economic rights and moral rights.


Economic rights are given exclusively to a holder of copyright to derive a profit from their literary works. As mentioned in Basics of Copyright Law, these rights become a property of the copyright holder, granting them a monopoly to use and deal with the right – no one can stop them – unless it is breaches some Statutory provision in the territory the right is exercised, or the copyright owner has contracted to give/lend that right to someone else.

Secondly, the copyright owner has a right of legal claim against anyone who makes use of his literary work without his permission. Granting permission to someone else to use the rights at a fee is called Licensing.

Typical exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder:

  • to make reproductions (copies, including electronic ones); and to make monies from those copies;
  • to import or export the use to another territory;
  • to create derivative works (adaptations of the original work);
  • to publicly perform or display the work;
  • to transmit or display by the works through any medium;

And because the right is like a property, it is also the exclusive right of the copyright owner to license or sell these rights to others.

Commonly heard derivative rights are works based on the original works, such as a translation of the work, audiobook or sound recording, to adapt into a cinematic/TV/video dramatization, production of graphic books or video animation, generation of merchandising based on the characters in the story, or any other form of adaptation or transformation from which the book is derived.

This derivative work applies to either the entire body of work (manuscript or book) or a portion or segment of it. So, it is not necessary for the entire book to be reproduced for the violation to be actionable as plagiarism or copyright infringement. Also note, even if there are annotations, elaborations, editorial revisions or other ‘versions’ or modifications of the works, these are protected too. 

A later post will cover dealing and contracting with copyright, eg. with a publisher etc.


Moral rights are the protection given to an author because they created the work. Since the artistic work is considered as an expression of or extension of the author’s personality, moral rights are personal to the author (separate from whoever owns the copyright) and cannot be transferred to another person, unless it devolves as an inheritance a will after the author dies. In most territories, the moral rights of an author is perpetual (to infinity and beyond!). 

The typically recognised moral rights that an author possesses is to be identified as the author of the work, and the right to object to any mutilation or distortion of the work which may be prejudicial to the author’s reputation or honour. 

An exception to the right to be identified is if the author creates the work under a contract for commission. If an author is paid by someone else to write for them, eg. when a company employs a team of writers, then, unless it is clearly specified that the works are to be credited to the writer, the work is credited to  and belongs to the employer or corporation/company which commissions it.

The same principle applies to Ghostwriters who are commissioned or contracted to write content for another person/corporation’s credit and ownership. This means that by virtue of the nature of a ghostwriting arrangement, a Ghostwriters signs their moral rights away to whoever has commissioned the writing for a one-time fee.

NEXT: Forging and Enforcing Your Copyright