Feist Publication, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349-50 (1991) (citations omitted) gives the primary purpose of copyright:

The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.

According to this, it seems copyright is not as much for protecting the author's right to allow others to copy their work as it is to protect against distortions, misrepresentations, or misattributions of the work.

Thus, is copyright really for protecting the author's right to attribution?
(like a CC BY license?)

Is the right to attribution contained within copyright?

2 Answers 2


Copyright does not contain the right to attribution (except with respect to authors of visual arts at 17 USC 106A).

A copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce a work, create derivative works, distribute copies, etc. (17 USC §106).

As we already answered here, when a copyright owner gives somebody else permission to do some of those things, the copyright owner can attach a condition to that permission. A common condition is that the licensee give credit to the the original creator.

With respect to visual arts, the attribution right gives the author the right to "prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation." 17 USC §106A(a)(2)


US jurisdiction doesn't recognize a general right to attribution (it can be a license condition), however, many jurisdictions (EU, UK, Australia etc.) recognize moral rights as separate and independent of copyright which includes attribution rights to the creator (not the copyright owner) among other things.

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