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I have here a copy of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, republished in 2010 by Harper Press, an imprint of HarperCollins's. On the copyright page is this text, with no further explanation:

Robert Louis Stevenson asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

(See Wikipedia on moral rights for an explanation of the right allegedly asserted, and of the alleged assertion.)

I find it hard to believe that Stevenson asserted any such thing.

The Berne Convention, which standardized such rights, wasn't agreed to until 1928, long after Stevenson's passing.

Wikipedia does indicate that France and Germany had such rights earlier, though it doesn't indicate how much earlier. Stevenson lived in the United Kingdom, but I suppose it's possible that he asserted his moral right for effect on the Continent. Or perhaps he happened to write "I insist on being called the author of that book" to his publishers before anyone was discussing moral rights at all.

Can HarperCollins's claim be substantiated or disproven?

  • You can see the first edition here archive.org/stream/strangecaseofdrj00stevrich#page/n0/mode/2up .... it merely says "All Rights Reserved". Perhaps Stevenson made the "moral right" assertion in a later edition. – GEdgar May 22 '18 at 11:40
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    I think you are arguing about terminology. Stevenson undoubtedly claimed to be the author of the book. In modern day terms that would be called 'asserting your moral right", even if different terminology would be used then. So it's reasonable to say that in modern day terms he "asserted his moral right" to be called the author. – DJClayworth May 22 '18 at 13:29
  • @DJClayworth asserting ones moral right to identified as author seems to be more than merely identifying oneself as author. – msh210 May 22 '18 at 14:50
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    The moral rights the Wiki article talks about are derived from the claim to be the author. In other words the Berne convention says that they author is entitled to these rights. An author doesn't have to say "I claim my rights under the Berne convention", they just have to say "I am the author" and (if true) the Berne convention gives them these rights. – DJClayworth May 22 '18 at 14:56
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    That's just linguistic hoop-jumping. If someone says "I am the author" they are implicitly claiming the rights of an author. – DJClayworth May 22 '18 at 15:35
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If I may paraphrase your question to "How could Robert Louis Stevenson have asserted his rights as the author under the Berne Treaty when he died before that treaty was created?"

I believe you are misunderstanding what the claim is, and how laws like this work.

The Berne Treaty (and any similar treaty) is not saying "Here are some rights which, if you assert your right to have them, are due to you." Instead it is saying "If you are the author of a work, here are some rights which you have." Those rights are intended to apply to works that were created before the treaty's existence, and to authors who were already dead.

In other words it is not specifically necessary to say "I claim my rights under the Berne treaty", but simply to say "I am the author of this work", and the treaty then gives you certain rights - even if the claim was made long before the treaty's existence.

There is absolutely no doubt that RLS claimed to be the author of "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". That is the only thing that the copyright declaration is saying. "Moral right" is a general term, not specific to the Berne Treaty, and even in RLS' time it would have been assumed that claiming to be the author includes claiming whatever rights (moral or otherwise) go with that.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Can you find a reference that explains the moral right this way? – Oddthinking May 24 '18 at 14:13
  • I think it's just the way the English Language works. – DJClayworth May 24 '18 at 14:13
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    I think it's going to take more than that. People often have arguments about differing interpretations of "the way the English language works", and I'd personally never heard of this interpretation. Indeed, it seems odd to me that English would work that way. I think a reference is called for. If it's the way that English Works, then surely someone will have written it in a grammar reference or something. – Ben Barden May 24 '18 at 14:18
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    It isn't an argument about how English syntax works: it is an argument about how the law works. And that requires references. – matt_black May 25 '18 at 23:21
  • I disagree. The claim is made in English, and says nothing about the law. – DJClayworth May 26 '18 at 14:47

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