The issue of moral rights oftentimes comes up when the author of some kind of work assigns or licenses to a third party, who then adapts that work in such a way that the author is unhappy. Moral rights are oftentimes believed to be associated with copyright rights. However, moral rights are separate and distinct from copyright rights. Whether or not the United States affectively recognizes moral rights is not entirely clear based upon existing case law, but it is an area of law that deserves attention especially in light of the questions surrounding moral rights.
Generally speaking, moral rights are comprised of four different rights. These include the right of integrity, the right of attribution, the right of disclosure, and the right to withdraw work from the public. As noted above, the US has not recognized each of these rights to the extent that European countries have. In the event that the United States Court do recognize moral rights, they typically recognize them under the guise of other legal theories, such as unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation, and breach of contract. They may even be associated with copyright rights. For example, one of the most publicized cases involving moral rights related to a reliance upon copyright law and unfair competition principles to safeguard the integrity rights of the Monty Python group. In the case of Gilliam v. American Broadcasting Companies Inc from the Second Circuit, the court found that "although the law seeks to vindicate the economic, rather than the personal rights of authors...the economic incentive for artistic...creation...cannot be reconciled with the inability of artists to obtain relief from mutilation or misrepresentation of their work to the public, on which the artists are financially dependent". This court recognized, in the position that has been advanced since, that moral rights are distinct from economic rights. The creator of a work should be able to protect its moral rights in that particular work.
Ultimately, whether or not the author of a book, the creator of a piece of visual artwork, or other copyright owner may be able to claim moral rights is not entirely clear. That said, identifying when a moral rights issue may exist and determining enforcement efforts related to those moral rights can be a critical piece of any dispute, copyright or otherwise. Therefore, speaking with a copyright attorney who has experience with moral rights can help.
It is worth noting that the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), set forth in 17 US 106a, is the first federal copyright legislation to grant protection to moral rights. However, VARA is limited to works of art that meet certain requirements. Whether or not VARA will lead to additional legislation beyond paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, or still photographic images, remains to be seen.