Friday, December 19, 2008

Les Miserables - Free At Last?

It's good to learn that moral rights have expired in France in Hugo's Les Miserables - a mere 123 years after his death. A French Court has so declared, after a suit by some heirs concerning sequels for about $1 million and an injunction

At the risk of telling tales out of school, it was a hard fight to convince certain officials - and contrary to the wishes of certain lobbyists - to put a limit on the term of of moral rights in Canada when they were introduced in the 1988 amendments. Thankfully, these rights are coterminous with economic rights.



I thank the anonymous person below (whose comment I inadvertently deleted but then manged to restore) who seems to know some details about French moral rights law. I was relying upon the AP report which said:
The court said Friday that Hugo's novel was in the public domain, and Ceresa was therefore free to invent a sequel.
This seemed to suggest that it was the public domain status that vitiated the moral rights claim. However, these press reports are often wrong on very important technical aspects. Unfortunately, decisions from France are not easy to find. I invite the commentator to provide a link to the decision, if available, or to the statutory reference.

I still think that Canada was right to put a clear time limit on the moral rights term for closure and certainty purposes. We will no doubt see some outrages - but a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa doesn't hurt anyone. Without such certainty, we might not have all those wonderful Frankenstein books and movies. Mary Shelley's heirs might have been outraged.



  1. Actually, Howard, I do not think it is correct to state that moral rights have expired in France in Les Misérables. The French Copyright Act clearly provides that moral rights are "perpétuels". What the French Appeals Court seems to have decided is rather that the specific exploitation which Hugo's heirs sought to stop, namely the re-casting of the characters of Les Misérables in different story lines, was not an infringement of the moral rights in the original. But the rights are still very much there.

  2. A frequently erudite colleague who wishes to remain anonymous advises:

    Sorry to disappoint you, but Hugo's moral rights remain perpetual.

    In a nutshell

    In 2007, the Cour de cassation told the Cour d'appel de Paris that writing a sequel was not ipso facto a breach of moral rights and required the Cour d'appel to look at the matter anew.

    In 2008, the Cour d'appel concluded that the sequels published by Plon did not offend Hugo's moral rights. More specifically, the resurrection of Javert did not constitute such an offence.

    Here is a review of the decision.