IP in art: Perspectives on moral rights from the Netherlands, Germany and UK | Fieldfisher
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IP in art: Perspectives on moral rights from the Netherlands, Germany and UK


Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom

Protection of moral rights has not been harmonised in the EU, despite various attempts to do so. So when artworks are destroyed, removed, mutilated or modified, claimants of these rights will face different tests in different countries.

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Germany view
UK view 

The Netherlands (Read this article in dutch)
When a municipality suddenly decides to remove an artwork, or a painting is destroyed without consulting the artist, wat happens to the rights of the creator of the piece of art? Ady van Nieuwenhuizen, a partner specialising in intellectual property law in Fieldfisher's Amsterdam office, offers a legal insight in the world of destroyed art.

Legal background – moral rights in the Netherlands

The Berne Convention enables copyright owners (in this case artists, painters or architects): "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 honour or reputation."[1]
These are also referred to as the moral rights of a copyright owner. In the Netherlands, these rights have been incorporated into article 25(1)(d) Dutch Copyright Act (DCA).

It is important to note that even after assignment of the copyright, the author of a work can use this right against the infringing party if that party acts in such a way that is detrimental to the honour and reputation of the author.

Arguably, even a simple stripe in a Mondrian painting could constitute a distortion, mutilation or modification of the work.

Case law

In the past, the Dutch Supreme Court has rendered a decision whether the removal of an architectural work qualified as a distortion or mutilation under article 25 DCA.

The judgment stated that removing or destroying an architectural work fell outside the scope of the DCA. On one hand, at the time of the Diplomatic Conference in Brussels in 1948, Member States were not willing to enable copyright owners to object to the destruction of their works.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court notes that it becomes practically impossible to remove or destroy architectural works if copyright owners were able to object to their removal or destruction.

However, copyright owners do have an opportunity to object to removal or destruction but not under the DCA. Under the Dutch Civil Code (DCC), the holder of a right may not exercise it to the extent that its exercise results in an abuse.[2] 

The destruction or removal of a copyright protected work can amount to an abusive exercise of one's rights as the owner of the artwork. If the work concerned is unique in its nature, or there are just a few copies of the work available, the owner can only remove or destroy the work as long as there is a well-founded reason for the removal or destruction.

Furthermore, the owner has to keep an eye on the legitimate interests of the author and make sure the work is documented in a proper manner, or enable the author to document the work properly.[3] 

What does this mean for artists?

Artists cannot rely on the DCA to object to removal or destruction of their unique works, but must state clearly in what way the destruction or removal amounts to an abuse of the rights of the rights holder.

Destruction or removal of an artwork is not prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the copyright owner. It is important to note this distinction to protect the works of an author successfully under the DCA and the DCC.

Please contact Ady should you require advice.



In Germany, moral rights to artworks are delicately balanced against the rights of the artwork's owner. The German position on impairment of artworks is outlined by Bahne Sievers, counsel, intellectual property in Fieldfisher's Hamburg office.

Legal background – moral rights in Germany

Section 14 of the German Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz - UrhG) provides authors with protection against the distortion or any other derogatory treatment of their works, which is capable of prejudicing their legitimate intellectual or personal interests in the work.

Being a moral right, this right always remains with the author and cannot be assigned or fully waived in advance.

Destruction of art works

According to the German Federal Court of Justice, the destruction of a work qualifies as an "other impairment" within the meaning of S.14 UrhG.[7] 

However, when examining whether the destruction is also likely to endanger the author's legitimate intellectual or personal interests in the work, a comprehensive balancing of the interests of the author and the owner of the work must be carried out.

In particular, it is taken into account whether the destroyed work was the only copy of the work and whether it was an object of fine art or "utility" art.

When it comes to works of architecture, the interests of the owner of the building play a weighty, frequently prevailing role.

Restoration of art works

Even well-intentioned restorations of art works can impair the work's integrity in the view of the author.
According to recent case law, the consent of the author is not required for the faithful restoration of a work protected by copyright.[8] 

However, failed restorations, like the famous example of the painting of Jesus at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church, Borja (Spain),[9] would qualify as an impairment in the sense of S.14 UrhG.

Relocation and context

The relocation of an artwork can also fall within the scope of S.14 UrhG if the specific context of the artwork contributes to the overall aesthetic impression.[10] 

An impairment of the author's legitimate interests within the meaning of S.14 UrhG does not necessarily require that the work itself is altered. The distribution of art prints in frames painted by a third party, for example, also infringes the author's moral rights as the frame can easily be misunderstood by unbiased viewers as a part of the original work.[11] 

Legal remedies

Generally, the author can take legal action against a moral rights infringement, including cease and desists and damages.

However, applying for an interim injunction against a huge construction project should be carefully considered, as the author would be liable for the costs of the construction freeze if the injunction is lifted on appeal.

In special circumstances, the author can additionally claim compensation for pain and suffering (S.97 II UrhG), for example, if an art installation is destroyed by the owner of the property without giving the author the opportunity to remove the installation.[12] 

What does this mean for artists?

German copyright law provides a robust defence against the impairment of art works. However, due to the balancing of the interests, each single case must be assessed with care and experience.

Please contact Bahne should you require advice.


The UK

UK legislation has been criticised for taking an unreasonably narrow approach to moral rights. Verity Ellis, a senior IP associate in Fieldfisher's London office and trainee Tessa Waite, summarise the UK position.

Legal background – moral rights

Moral rights safeguard the integrity and respect of creative works. These rights can offer artists protection alongside copyright itself.

Moral rights include the right to be recognised as the author/director of a work and conversely the right not to suffer false attribution of a copyright work.

In relation to the destruction of art, the most relevant moral right is the protection against work being subjected to "derogatory treatment", also known as the "right to integrity".

As mentioned above, moral rights were initially codified in the Berne Convention. In respect of integrity rights, the Berne Convention adopted a broad approach to their infringement by granting artists a right to object to any “other derogatory action”.

This led many European jurisdictions to encompass a wide range of infringing acts, including removal and destruction, in their interpretation of "treatment".

The UK incorporated moral rights into law through the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

Contrary to many other moral rights regimes, the CDPA interprets the principle narrowly. Under English law, "treatment" only covers unauthorised additions, amendments to, deletions from, or alterations of, the works,[13] and offers artists no express right to object to the artwork's removal or destruction.

In addition, for a finding of infringement, such mistreatment must also be derogatory by distorting or mutilating the work and/or damage the artist's reputation.[14] 

In the UK, moral rights apply to literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and films, although sound recordings, broadcasts or typographical arrangements are excluded.[15] 

The right of integrity lasts for the term of copyright, which is the life of the author plus 70 years, while the right to prevent false attribution is limited to 20 years after the death of the author.

An important distinction as against other intellectual property rights is the way in which moral rights cannot be assigned, only waived.

Case law

The English courts have rarely addressed this area of law, so there is little clarity on what does and does not constitute "derogatory treatment" within the context of the CDPA.

Developments may be on the horizon, however, as Harrison v Harrison[16] reflected on whether "derogatory treatment" should be judged on a spectrum, ranging from "the addition of a single word in a poem to the destruction of an entire art work". This suggests a wide approach to the definition could be taken in the future.

One other notable development was from the case of Confetti Records v Warner Music[17], which found that to claim a right to integrity in the UK, the artist must prove that the "derogatory treatment" of their work (i.e., by distorting, mutilating or modifying) also prejudiced their "honour and reputation".[18] 

This introduces an additional element to the test and potentially makes the hurdle higher for artists. This case departed from the position adopted in the earlier case of Tidy v Trustees of the Natural History Museum[19] that the reputation limb was not critical to a moral rights claim.


Protection of moral rights has not been harmonised in the EU, despite various attempts to do so. Therefore, Brexit will not affect the position relating to moral rights in the UK.

What this means for artists

The UK's law on moral rights has been criticised in the past for taking an unreasonably narrow approach when implementing the Berne Convention.

The CDPA includes neither explicit rights against the removal or destruction of artwork, nor a general clause expressly authorising artists to object to any derogatory action. Case law currently offers little clarification.

Consequently, it is a grey area as to whether English law allows artists to oppose the removal or destruction of their works.

It remains the case that moral rights actions are still relatively rare in the UK, unlike civil law jurisdictions, and rarer still where moral rights have been successfully relied upon. 

There may, however, be other avenues for artists, depending on the artwork in question and depending on the circumstance of the removal or destruction of the art, such as pursuing a claim for criminal damage.

Please contact Verity should you require advice.



Hoe zit het juridisch als een auteursrechtelijk beschermd werk wordt vernietigd?

In het verleden zijn er gemeentes geweest die gebouwen of kunstwerken hebben weggehaald of vernietigd zonder dat de auteursrechthebbende (de schilder of architect) werd geraadpleegd. Ady van Nieuwenhuizen biedt in dit blog kort een inzicht in de juridische wereld van vernietigde kunstwerken.

Juridische achtergrond – morele rechten

De Berner Conventie maakt het mogelijk voor auteursrechthebbenden om zich te verzetten tegen elke misvorming, verminking, of andere aantasting van het werk, welke nadeel zou kunnen toebrengen aan de eer of de naam van de maker of aan zijn waarde in deze hoedanigheid.[4] In Nederland is deze bepaling verwerkt in artikel 25 lid 1 sub d van de Auteurswet (Aw). Het is van belang om op te merken dat een auteursrechthebbende de voornoemde bevoegdheid toekomt zelfs in gevallen waarin het auteursrecht al is overgegaan op een andere partij. Een simpele streep door een schilderij van Mondriaan zou al een misvorming, verminking of andere aantasting kunnen vormen.


In het verleden heeft de Hoge Raad zich uitgelaten of de vernietiging van een auteursrechtelijk beschermd werk binnen de reikwijdte van artikel 25 lid 1 sub d Aw valt. De Hoge Raad was van mening dat gelet op de totstandkomingsgeschiedenis van de Berner Conventie geoordeeld moest worden dat dit niet het geval is. Er zouden te veel praktische bezwaren aan een dergelijke lezing van artikel 25 Aw kleven. Auteursrechthebbenden zouden dan zich kunnen verzetten tegen de sloop van een kunstwerk, ook al zou sloop of verwijdering zijn ingegeven door opvattingen waarmee het voortbestaan van het kunstwerk of gebouw niet te verenigen is.

Onder de Aw hebben auteursrechthebbenden geen mogelijkheid om zich te verzetten tegen vernietiging dan wel verwijdering van een werk. Daarentegen biedt het Burgerlijk Wetboek (BW) de mogelijkheid aan auteursrechthebbenden om een beroep te doen op misbruik van recht.[5] Het verwijderen of vernietigen van een auteursrechtelijk beschermd werk kan misbruik van recht opleveren van de eigenaar van het werk jegens de maker. Dit zal het geval zijn wanneer het gaat om unieke werken of bouwwerken. Een eigenaar mag in die gevallen alleen overgaan tot verwijdering of vernietiging indien daarvoor een gegronde reden bestaat. Bovendien moeten de gerechtvaardigde belangen van de maker in acht worden genomen en zal de eigenaar er zorg voor moeten dragen dat het afgebroken beschermde werk zo goed mogelijk wordt gedocumenteerd.[6] 

Wat betekent dit voor kunstenaars?

Auteursrechthebbenden kunnen dus geen beroep doen op de Aw als hun werken worden vernietigd of verwijderd. Vernietiging of verwijdering leidt niet tot aantasting aan de eer of de naam van de maker of aan zijn waarde in deze hoedanigheid. Het is dus van belang om als maker een beroep te doen op mogelijk misbruik van bevoegdheden aan de zijde van de eigenaar.

Mocht u vragen hebben neem dan contact met mij mij op.


[1] Article 6bis of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
[2] Article 3:13 Dutch Civil Code.
[3] ECLI:NL:HR:2004:AN7830, paragraph 4.4.-4.6 (Jelles/Zwolle).
[4] Artikel 6bis Berner Conventie voor de bescherming van letterkunde en kunst.
[5] Artikel 3:13 Burgerlijk Wetboek.
[6] ECLI:NL:HR:2004:AN7830, paragraph 4.4.-4.6 (Jelles/Zwolle).
[7] Federal Court of Justice, judgement made on 21.2.2019 – I ZR 98/17 – HHole.
[8] Upper Regional Court of Düsseldorf, judgement made 20. February 2019 – 20 U 134/17.
[9] In this example, the copyright protection had clearly expired many years earlier.
[10] Upper Regional Court of Cologne, judgement made on 12. June 2009 – 6 U 215/08 – Horse Sculpture.
[11] Federal Court of Justice, judgement made on 7. February 2002 - I ZR 304/99.
[12] Upper Regional Court of Berlin, judgment made 16 December 2019 – 24 U 173/15.
[13] S.80(2)(a) CDPA
[14] S.80(2)(b) CDPA
[15] S.80(1) CDPA
[16] Harrison v Harrison [2010] E.C.D.R. 12
[17] Confetti Records v Warner Music UK Ltd [2003] E.C.D.R. 31
[18] Confetti Records v Warner Music UK Ltd [2003] E.C.D.R. 31, see paragraph 150
[19] Tidy v Trustees of the Natural History Museum [1996] 39 IPR 501

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