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Moral Right

CAN IT BE that the government of the United States, despite the likes of Jesse Helms, truly believes in the inherent value of art? The signals are mixed. Although, after very public debate, NEA funding was cut back, in late November 1990, without public ceremony, Congress enacted the “Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990” (known as “VARA”), which incorporated into existing federal copyright law a provision that deals with the moral rights of visual artists. (California, New York, and nine other states already had their own moral-rights acts. To what extent these state laws will remain vital or be preempted by VARA is not yet clear.)

It is all a little confusing, since copyright is part of property law, while the doctrine of droit moral—that the “soul” of an artwork should not, or perhaps cannot, leave the control of the creator of the work—is arguably noneconomic in origin. But notions of

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