The story so far: The Delhi High Court recently passed an interim order to prevent the unlawful use of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan’s name, image and voice. The court, through its order, restrained persons at large from infringing the personality rights of the actor.
Personality rights refer to the right of a person to protect his/her personality under the right to privacy or property. These rights are important to celebrities as their names, photographs or even voices can easily be misused in various advertisements by different companies to boost their sales. Therefore, it is necessary for renowned personalities/celebrities to register their names to save their personality rights.
A large list of unique personal attributes contribute to the making of a celebrity. All of these attributes need to be protected, such as name, nickname, stage name, picture, likeness, image and any identifiable personal property, such as a distinctive race car.
Personality rights are different from publicity rights. Personality rights consist of two types of rights — firstly, 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 secondly, the right to privacy or the right to not have one’s personality represented publicly without permission. However, under common law jurisdictions, publicity rights fall into the realm of the ‘tort of passing off’. Passing off takes place when someone intentionally or unintentionally passes off their goods or services as those belonging to another party. Often, this type of misrepresentation damages the goodwill of a person or business, resulting in financial or reputational damage. Publicity rights are governed by statutes like the Trade marks Act 1999 and the Copyright Act 1957.
The Delhi High Court in 2011 made an observation in the case of Arun Jaitley vs Network Solutions Private Limited and Ors., in which Mr. Jaitley filed a suit seeking permanent injunction against the defendants from misuse and immediate transfer of the domain name www.arunjaitley.com. The Court stated that “the popularity or fame of individual will be no different on the internet than in reality.” The Court decided in the favour of Mr. Arun Jaitley, stating that the “name also falls in the category wherein it besides being a personal name has attained distinctive indicia of its own. Therefore, the said name due its peculiar nature/distinctive character coupled with the gained popularity in several fields whether being in politics, or in advocacy, ...has become a well-known personal name/mark under the trade mark law which enures him the benefit to refrain others from using this name unjustifiably in addition to his personal right to sue them for the misuse of his name.”
While celebrities are protected from commercial misuse of their name and personality, there have also been instances where the consumers are misled owing to false advertisements or endorsements by such personalities. Due to such cases, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has made a notification in 2022 to keep a check on misleading adverts and endorsements of consumer products by imposing a penalty on the endorser.
G.S. Bajpai is Vice-Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, where Sangeeta Taak is Assistant Professor.