The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), 17 U.S.C. § 106A, a law protecting artists' rights
VARA was the first U.S federal Copyright legislation to grant protection of moral rights. Moral rights are rights belonging to creators of copyrighted works. Before VARA, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1928), offered protection of an artist's moral rights.
United States did not become a signatory to the Berne convention until 1988.Unlike other jurisdiction, the U.S. does not completely recognize moral rights as part of copyright law, but rather as part of other bodies of law, such as unfair competition or some form of defamation.
Moral rights include the right of attribution (the requirement to acknowledge or credit the author of a work which is used or appears in another work); the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously; and the right to the integrity of the work. The preserving of the work's integrity is to protect against alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Actions that interfere with an artist's relationship with their work, including the period after it leaves the artist's possession or ownership, can impact the artist's moral rights attached to the work.
Moral rights are distinct from economic rights tied to copyright, as a result, even where an artist has assigned his or her rights of a work to a third-party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work, unless of course these rights are also signed away. However, some jurisdictions forbid an artist to waive or contract away his or her moral rights to their work.
Under VARA, an artist's rights may attach to the work irrespective of ownership or possessionRegardless of subsequent physical ownership of the artwork, or copyright to the work, artists maintain certain rights in their work under VARA. For example, a painter may insist on proper attribution of his painting, and in some instances, may sue the owner of the painting for destroying the painting even where the owner of the painting lawfully owned and possessed the painting.
VARA gives qualifying authors the following protections:
1) Rights to claim authorship to be identified as author of a work;
2) Rights to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create;
3) Rights to prevent use of one's name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author's honor, or reputation;
4) Right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honor or reputation
5) Rights to prevent the destruction of a work of art, if it is of "recognized stature."