The ease and informality of digital publishing have led to an increase in complaints about false attribution: that is, representations that a person is the author of a work – such as a blog post, photo or graphic – when he or she is not. There are several common scenarios:
- using the name of a well-known author to add credibility to a work;
- publishing low-quality or inappropraite material to damage a person’s credibility;
- copying someone’s content, adapting it (e.g. for nefarious SEO purposes), and maintaining that the original author is the author of the adapted work.
Such actions may give rise to rights under the law of copyright, defamation or malicious falsehood. However, there is also a little-known moral right against false attribution. This is set out in section 84 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Under that Section, a person has a right not to have a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work falsely attributed to him or her as author. The right is infringed by anyone who issues copies of a work containing a false attribution to the public, or performs such a work in public or communicates such a work to the public. Dealing with copies of such a work may also constitute an infringement. The right continues for life and for a period of 20 years following death.
In principle, an action for breach of this right may lead to damages and/or an injunction restraining the defendant from continuing or repeating the publication. In practice, most internet-related cases of false attribution are irritating rather than damaging, and full-blown legal action may be disproportionate. That said, many cases can be solved with a solicitor’s letter: the benefits of continuing to publish a false attribution will rarely outweigh the risks of High Court litigation.