Res Publica

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 193–207 | Cite as

‘IP’ Moral Rights Breaches are Deception Offences, Not Property Offences: Correcting a Category Error

  • James McKeahnie


In March of 2014 Nature Publishing Group, responsible for the publication of journals such as Nature and Scientific American, was subject to criticism for its requirement that contributing authors waive their moral rights (a component of their copyright) in relation to their published articles. Some of the rights included under the umbrella term ‘moral rights’ are the right to have any copies of one’s work reproduced accurately and without alteration; the right to the accurate attribution of one’s work under one’s own name; and the right not to have the work of others falsely attributed to oneself. The Nature Publishing case, from the criticism it sparked to the group’s own response, highlights a category error that occurs when moral rights are conceived of as property rights. Rather, moral rights are natural, non-proprietary rights. In correcting this category error it becomes evident that moral rights offences are not property offences, such as theft, but fraud offences—like plagiarism and forgery. Subsequently, whereas property rights, by definition, are able to be transferred or waived, it can be shown that no justification can be made for treating moral rights as transferrable or able to be waived.


Copyright Moral rights Intellectual property Category error Nature Publishing 



I would like to thank David Neil for his critical evaluation of this paper across several versions. I also owe thanks to two anonymous reviewers for their astute and productive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Law, Humanities and the ArtsUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia

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