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Through moral rights, authors, artists, architects and other creators of intellectual property may have the authority to prevent their works being modified, even if copyrights to the work are owned by somebody else.

Moral rights have nothing to do with a loss of revenue caused by unauthorised people profitting of a creation; instead these rights exist to protect the integrity and reputation of a creator (the right of integrity), and to ensure the creator's authorship is acknowledged (the right of attribution). Many jurisdictions also allow the right for an author to publish a work anonymously or with a pseudonym. The holder of a moral right can choose to allow a specified act (or omission) to take place that will modify their creation.

Moral rights are inalienable and non-tradeable rights and exist immediately once a creation comes into existence, regardless if it is owned by the creator or the creator's employer, or is subsequently sold or leased. Upon the death of a creator, moral rights can be bequeathed to a legal representative.

The moral rights of attribution and integrity are not infringed if a creation is sufficiently modified by a reasonable degree. For example, Led Zepplin could not claim that Puff Daddy's Come with me was a bastardised version of Kashmir, since aside from a few similarities most reasonable people would assume the songs are different. Likewise, a building could have its exterior modified without the consent of the architect if it was deemed something vital like a fire escape was missing (although architects frequently appeal such exceptions).

Moral rights originated in French and German civil law, and were included in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (article 6bis), in 1928:

Independently of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.
The United States only ratified this agreement as late as 1988, and in 1990 Congress approved the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) that recognises moral rights (albeit only for the visual arts).

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