The term is considered as a direct translation of the French term droit d’auteur (also German Urheberrecht). It was indeed first (1777) promoted in France by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who had close relations with Benjamin Franklin. It is generally used in relation to the copyright laws of civil law countries and in European Union law. Authors' rights are internationally protected by the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and by other similar treaties. Concerning "work of the spirit", “Author” is used in a very wide sense, and includes composers, artists, sculptors and even architects: in general, the author is the person whose creativity led to the protected work being created, although the exact definition varies from country to country.
Authors’ rights have two distinct components: the economic rights in the work and the moral rights of the author. The economic rights are a property right which is limited in time and which may be transferred by the author to other people in the same way as any other property (although many countries require that the transfer must be in the form of a written contract). They are intended to allow the author or their holder to profit financially from his or her creation, and include the right to authorize the reproduction of the work in any form (Article 9, Berne Convention). The authors of dramatic works (plays, etc.) also have the right to authorize the public performance of their works (Article 11, Berne Convention).
The protection of the moral rights of an author is based on the view that a creative work is in some way an expression of the author’s personality: the moral rights are therefore personal to the author, and cannot be transferred to another person except by testament when the author dies. The moral rights regime differs greatly between countries, but typically includes the right to be identified as the author of the work and the right to object to any distortion or mutilation of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation (Article 6bis, Berne Convention). In many countries, the moral rights of an author are perpetual.