The Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”) is a piece of modern legislation preceded by a rich history, with a significant gap. As early as the 1400’s, patents were offered as economic incentive to develop new processes in the trades and applied arts. By the 1700’s, the Statute of Anne became the first statute to protect the literary work of individual creators. The Engravers’ Act of 1735 soon followed, expanding this protection to include the first works of visual art and providing the precursor to the modern right of integrity. Millar v. Taylor was the landmark case that alluded to moral rights protection and found copyright existed at common law; however, it was replaced by statutory copyright in Donaldson v. Beckett. From then on, only the statute could prescribe protection. This effectively closed the door on moral rights protection in the United States, because the Donaldson interpretation provided the groundwork for interpretation of the first United States copyright statute. Until VARA, the United States copyright law focused on economic protection, disregarding most other values. This article traces moral rights through the early intellectual property law history, discusses the importance of the rights granted, and argues that VARA is most useful if jurists and legislators become aware of the history and the legislation itself.
Susan P. Liemer, How We Lost Our Moral Rights and the Door Closed on Non-Economic Values in Copyright, 5 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 1 (2005)