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The right of publicity, sometimes referred to as personality rights, is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of one's identity, such as name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal identifiers. It is generally considered a property right as opposed to a personal right, and as such, the validity of the right of publicity can survive the death of the individual (to varying degrees depending on the jurisdiction).
Personality rights are generally considered to consist of two types of rights: the right of publicity, or the right to keep one's image and likeness from being commercially exploited without permission or contractual compensation, which is similar (but not identical) to the use of a trademark; and the right to privacy, or the right to be left alone and not have one's personality represented publicly without permission. In common law jurisdictions, publicity rights fall into the realm of the tort of passing off. United States jurisprudence has substantially extended this right.
A commonly cited justification for this doctrine, from a policy standpoint, is the notion of natural rights and the idea that every individual should have a right to control how his or her right of publicity is commercialized by a third party, if at all. Often, though certainly not always, the motivation to engage in such commercialization is to help propel sales or visibility for a product or service, which usually amounts to some form of commercial speech (which in turn receives the lowest level of judicial scrutiny).
In contrast with common law jurisdictions, most civil law jurisdictions have specific civil code provisions that protect an individual's image, personal data and other generally private information. Exceptions have been carved out of these general, broad privacy rights when dealing with news and public figures. Thus, while it may violate an ordinary citizen's privacy to speak about their medical records, one is generally allowed to report on more intimate details in the lives of celebrities and politicians.
Unlike most common law jurisdictions the personality rights in civil law are generally inheritable, thus one can make a claim against someone who invades the privacy of a deceased relative if the memory of their character is besmirched by such publication.
Personality rights have developed out of common law concepts of property, trespass and intentional tort. Thus personality rights are, generally speaking, judge-made law, though there are jurisdictions where some aspects of personality rights are statutory. In some jurisdictions, publicity rights and privacy rights are not clearly distinguished, and the term publicity right is generally used. In a publicity rights case the issue to decide is whether a significant section of the public would be misled into believing (incorrectly) that a commercial arrangement had been concluded between a plaintiff and a defendant under which the plaintiff agreed to the advertising involving the image or reputation of a famous person. The actionable misrepresentation requires a suggestion that the plaintiff has endorsed or licensed the defendant's products, or somehow can exercise control over those products. This is done by way of the tort of passing off.
The meaning of the law is best illustrated by principal cases on the subject.
In Australia, false association or endorsement is actionable via the law of passing off, not a separate law of "right of personality". The Henderson case was a decision of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (both the first instance and appellate jurisdiction). The plaintiffs were ballroom dancers and they sued the defendant in passing off alleging it wrongfully published their photograph on the cover of a gramophone record entitled Strictly for Dancing: Vol. 1. An injunction was granted on the ground that the use suggested the plaintiffs recommended or approved of the defendant's goods, or had some connection with the goods.
However, in the 1988 case of Honey v Australian Airlines, Gary Honey, a well known Australian athlete failed in his attempt to get a damages award after Australian Airlines used a photograph of him in action on a poster without his permission. The judge held, in essence, that the poster depicted excellence in general rather than a particular person.
Canadian common law recognizes a limited right to personality. It was first acknowledged in the 1971 Ontario decision of Krouse v. Chrysler Canada Ltd., where the Court held that where a person has marketable value in their likeness and it has been used in a manner that suggests an endorsement of a product then there is grounds for an action in appropriation of personality. This right was later expanded upon in Athans v. Canadian Adventure Camps (1977) where the Court held that the personality right included both image and name.
In Gould Estate v. Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd. (1998), the Ontario Court of Appeal concluded that simply writing about somebody, even for the purpose of generating a profit, does not constitute appropriation of personality.
The general tort of appropriation of personality is still in development, but it is currently[when?] being argued that it will be recognized in all common law provinces, with certain characteristics:
3. Every person is the holder of personality rights, such as the right to life, the right to the inviolability and integrity of his person, and the right to the respect of his name, reputation and privacy. These rights are inalienable.
36. The following acts, in particular, may be considered as invasions of the privacy of a person:
- (1) entering or taking anything in his dwelling;
- (2) intentionally intercepting or using his private communications;
- (3) appropriating or using his image or voice while he is in private premises;
- (4) keeping his private life under observation by any means;
- (5) using his name, image, likeness or voice for a purpose other than the legitimate information of the public;
- (6) using his correspondence, manuscripts or other personal documents.
In Aubry v Éditions Vice-Versa Inc, the Supreme Court of Canada also affirmed that under Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms privacy provisions, a photographer can take photographs in public places but may not publish the picture unless permission has been obtained from the subject, except where the subject appears in an incidental manner, or whose professional success depends on public opinion. The relevant provisions of the Charter are:
4. Every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation. 5. Every person has a right to respect for his private life.
Therefore, the following general characteristics may be drawn:
In Denmark, the Danish Penal Code chapters 26 and 27, provides certain personality rights. The governmental Danish Data Protection Agency, has made a declaration regarding publication on the Internet of pictures taken of persons in a public area:
A portrait photograph is defined as a photograph, with the purpose of depicting one or more specific person(s). The personality rights however may be contracted for persons who are generally accepted as public persons.
In France personality rights are protected under article 9 of the French civil code. While publicly known facts and images of public figures are not generally protected, use of someone's image or personal history has been held actionable under French law. The most famous case in recent history is perhaps the publication of the book on François Mitterrand called Le Grand Secret in which Mitterrand's doctor published a book that not only revealed private facts about Mitterrand's life, but also revealed medical confidences protected by doctor-patient privilege.
In Germany personality rights are protected under the German civil code, where the concept of an "absolute person of contemporary history" allows the depiction of individuals who are part of history but still gives them some protection of their rights of privacy outside the public sphere. A succinct statement of the German law can be found in the following judicial statement from the Marlene Dietrich case: the general right of personality has been recognised in the case law of the Bundesgerichtshof since 1954 as a basic right constitutionally guaranteed by Arts 1 and 2 of the Basic Law and at the same time as an "other right" protected in civil law under § 823 (1) of the BGB (constant case law since BGHZ 13, 334, 338 - readers' letters). It guarantees as against all the world the protection of human dignity and the right to free development of the personality. Special forms of manifestation of the general right of personality are the right to one's own picture (§§ 22 ff. of the KUG) and the right to one's name (§ 12 of the BGB). They guarantee protection of the personality for the sphere regulated by them (reference omitted). }}
In Portugal personality rights are protected under the tutela geral da personalidade on article 70 of the Portuguese Civil Code and, also, in article 17 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic. Some personality rights, like the right to image or honor are specifically typified in the civil code in the articles following the tutela geral.
The relevant Greek laws include 57 AK and 2472/1997. As regarding photography:
The relevant Guernsey law was enacted on 3 December 2012 under the name of Image Rights Bailiwick of Guernsey Ordinance 2012 and allows for the registration of a personality right, together with images associated with that personality. Images are widely defined and can be any number of personal attributes, such as likeness, mannerisms, gestures, voice, nickname etc.
Personalities able to register fall into 5 categories, namely sole, joint, group, legal and fictional character. In addition, humans can be registered up to 100 years after the date of death, making the law very favourable for estate managers and trustees.
In Hong Kong, as in most other common law jurisdictions, there is no separate "personality right", and false association or endorsement is actionable under the law of passing off. The main case on this point relates to Cantopop singer/actor Andy Lau and Hang Seng Bank over the allegedly unauthorized use of Lau's image on credit cards, which has led to the observation that only limited personality rights exist in this jurisdiction.
In October 2007, J-pop duo Pink Lady sued Kobunsha for ¥3.7 million after the publisher's magazine Josei Jishin used photos of the duo on an article on dieting through dancing without their permission. The case was rejected by the Tokyo District Court. In February 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the duo's appeal based on the right of publicity.
While personality rights are said to exist to some extent by both influence of constitution, and tort liability , cases filed to enforce such rights against shopping malls have been unsuccessful.
In the People's Republic of China, rights of personality are established by statute. According to article 100 and 101 of the General Principle of Civil Law of the People's Republic of China, the right of name and the right of image are protected. It is prohibited to use another's image for commercial use without that person's consent. In the new Tort Liabilities Law which came into effect on Jan 1, 2021, the right of privacy is mentioned for the first time in the legislation.
There are few studies on the right to fame in Iranian law. However, through general principles, an attempt has been made to support celebrities.
In South Africa personality rights are protected under the South African law of delict and the Bill of Rights, which also provides for freedom of expression and freedom of association. After much uncertainty concerning the recognition of image rights in South Africa, the Supreme Court of Appeal provided clarity in the landmark case of Grütter v Lombard. In South Africa, a person's right to identity is violated if the attributes of that person is used without permission in a way which cannot be reconciled with the true image of that person. Apart from the unauthorized use of a person's image, this kind of infringement also entails some kind of misrepresentation concerning the individual, such as that the individual approves or endorses a particular product or service or that an attorney is a partner in a firm, while this is not the case. Secondly, the right to identity is violated if the attributes of a person is used without authorization by another person for commercial gain. Apart from the unauthorized use of the individual's image, such use also primarily entails a commercial motive which is exclusively aimed at promoting a service or product or to solicit clients or customers. The mere fact that the user may benefit or profit from any product or service in respect of which the individual's attributes have incidentally been used, is not in itself sufficient. This violation of the right to identity therefore also entails unauthorized use of the individual's attributes with a commercial purpose, whether it is done by means of advertisement or the manufacture and distribution of merchandise covered with the attributes of the individual. Personality rights are not absolute and it goes without saying that the use of a person's attributes must be unlawful before a plaintiff will succeed with any claim. With the use of a person's image, the personality rights, privacy, human dignity and freedom of association of the individual must often be weighed against the user's right to freedom of expression. The use of a person's image can be justified on the grounds of consent, truth and public interest, fair comment and jest.
According to the agency (Spanish) Data Protection for the collection and dissemination on Internet of images of a person without their consent may be a serious breach of the Data Protection Act which would be punishable by a minimum fine of 60,000 euros. According to El Mundo Data Protection Agency decided to investigate ex officio by the mere distribution of the image of a person on the Internet without their consent.
In the United States, the right of publicity is a state law-based right, as opposed to federal, and recognition of the right can vary from state to state. The rationale underlying the right of publicity in the United States is rooted in both privacy and economic exploitation. The rights are based in tort law, and parallel Prosser's "Four Torts" which might be summarized as : 1) Intrusion upon physical solitude; 2) public disclosure of private facts; 3) depiction in a false light; and 4) appropriation of name and likeness. If looking at it through the prism of Prosser's four torts, violation of a right of publicity most closely aligns with appropriation. The right of publicity often is manifest in advertising or merchandise. In states without a specific right of publicity statute, the right of publicity is usually recognized via common law. The right of publicity has evolved rapidly, with a history of reported cases in the United States and worldwide.
The right of publicity is defined as the right of all individuals to control commercial use of their names, images, likenesses, or other identifying aspects of identity. In certain contexts, the right of publicity is limited (under U.S. law) by the First Amendment. The right of publicity can be referred to as publicity rights or even personality rights. The term "right of publicity" was coined by Judge Jerome Frank in 1953.
The extent of recognition of this right in the U.S. is largely driven by statute or case law. Because the right of publicity is primarily governed by state (as opposed to federal) law, the degree of recognition of the right of publicity can vary from one state to the next. The right of publicity is not simply an analog to trademark law, though it could be noted that the right of publicity has some commonality with the protection of trademarks as long as one understands that the right of publicity is a distinct legal doctrine, with its own policies, objectives and standards, including notable differences from trademark law. For example, falsity or likelihood of confusion generally do not have to be established to present a colorable right of publicity claim.
At a national level, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1977 case Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. that the First Amendment did not immunize a television station from liability for broadcasting Hugo Zacchini's human cannonball act without his consent. This was the first, and so far the only, U.S. Supreme Court ruling on rights of publicity and it served to confirm the overall validity of the doctrine and the interests it protects.
Indiana has one of the stronger right of publicity statutes in the U.S., providing recognition of the right for 100 years after death, and protecting not only the usual "name, image and likeness", but also signature, photograph, gestures, distinctive appearances, and mannerisms. Notably, Oklahoma also provides 100 years of protection after death, and Tennessee's statute provides rights that do not ever expire if use is continuous. There are other notable characteristics of the Indiana law, though most of the major movement in right of publicity emanates from New York and California, with a significant body of case law which suggest potentially contradictory positions with respect to recognition of the right of publicity under certain circumstances.
Some states recognize the right through statute and some others through common law. California has both statutory and common-law strains of authority protecting slightly different forms of the right. The right of publicity shares characteristics of a property right and as such is transferable to the person's heirs after their death. The Celebrities Rights Act was passed in California in 1985 and it extended the personality rights for a celebrity to 70 years after their death. Previously, the 1979 Lugosi v. Universal Pictures decision by the California Supreme Court held that Bela Lugosi's personality rights could not pass to his heirs.
In this decision preceding (and precipitating) the Legislature's enactment of Section 990, the California Supreme Court held that rights of publicity were not descendible in California. Bela Lugosi's heirs, Hope Linninger Lugosi and Bela George Lugosi, sued to enjoin and recover profits from Universal Pictures for licensing Lugosi's name and image on merchandise reprising Lugosi's title role in the 1930 film Dracula. The California Supreme Court faced the question whether Bela Lugosi's film contracts with Universal included a grant of merchandising rights in his portrayal of Dracula, and the descendibility any such rights. Adopting the opinion of Justice Roth for the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, the court held that the right to exploit one's name and likeness is personal to the artist and must be exercised, if at all, by him during his lifetime. Lugosi, 603 P.2d at 431.
Ten years later, the son and the widow of Bela Lugosi, star of the Dracula films, argued that this right was essentially property and therefore should pass on to heirs. In a California suit, they asked the courts to stop Universal Pictures from merchandising 70 Dracula products, ranging from jigsaw puzzles to belt buckles, and sought compensation based on the profits. Citing the First Amendment, Universal replied that the design of merchandise is a form of free speech that should not be restrained by anyone's heirs. Besides, said Universal's lawyer, Robert Wilson, Lugosi "attained fame and fortune because the company made and distributed the movies he starred in." After eleven years of wrangling, a trial judge decided in favor of the Lugosis, giving them $70,000 and barring Universal from merchandising Lugosi's likeness. ... In December the California Supreme Court reversed the Lugosi decision.
Cruise and Kidman claim the unauthorised use of their image for the advert had made them 'involuntary models without pay'. [...] They are seeking damages for violation of the Lanham Act, a US law designed to protect against trademark infringement and unfair competition such as false advertising.
In amending the California post-mortem right of publicity statute in the wake of the Monroe decision, the California Legislature confirmed that the right of publicity existed at the time of death even if that occurred before passage of the statutory right, because such right existed at the common law level. Assuming Monroe's name, image and likeness are in the public domain as a result of the decision overlooks registered trademarks pertaining to Monroe as well as potential application of right of publicity in other jurisdictions.)
[T]he California Assembly passed a "Celebrities Rights Act" in 1985 which said that rights of publicity survive the celebrity's death and descend to heirs by wills, among other means.