False Friends: When autor is not an “author”

Oh, no! False Friends

autor; author / autoría; authorship

Autor and “author” are obviously cognates when they describe the creator of a literary or artistic work: el autor de la novela (“the author of the novel”). Thus, for example, the expression derechos de autor refers to “copyright,” while derechos morales de autor are an author’s “moral rights.” In this context, autoría is indeed “authorship” (the fact of having authored or created a literary or artistic work), coautoría denotes “co-authorship,” and coautores are “co-authors.”

In contrast, in Spanish criminal law contexts el autor (de un delito) is the “principal” or “perpetrator” of a crimal offense. A distinction is often drawn between the autor material or ejecutor (the person who actually commits the offense) and autor intelectual (the “brains” or “mastermind” behind a crime). Likewise, an autor mediato uses an innocent third party (for example, a minor or mentally incompetent person) as an instrument to execute a crime. In this context, autoría refers to the fact of being directly responsible for the perpetration of a crime, while coautoría denotes the commission of a crime by two or more principals who are, thus, coautores (“co-principals” or “co-perpetrators”) of the offense.

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