Personality right – The Core IAS

Personality right

What is a personality right?

  • The name, voice, signature, images or any other feature easily identified by the public are markers of a celebrity’s personality and are referred loosely as “personality rights.” These could include a pose, a mannerism or any aspect of their personality.
  • Many celebrities even register some aspects as a trademark to use them commercially. For example, Usain Bolt’s “bolting” or lightning pose is a registered trademark.

Why is it important?

  • The idea is that only the owner or creator of these distinct features has the right to derive any commercial benefit from it. Exclusivity is a big factor in attracting commercial dividends for celebrities. So unauthorised use causes a tangible loss of revenue.
  • Celebrities can move the Court and seek an injunction when an unauthorised third party uses their personality rights for commercial purposes.

How does the law protect the right?

  • Personality rights or their protection are not expressly mentioned in a statute in India but are traced to fall under the right to privacy and the right to property. Even as the Delhi High Court and the Madras High Court have passed interim orders, the law is at a nascent stage in India.
  • Many concepts in intellectual property rights used in protection of trademarks such as passing off, deception can be applied while deciding whether a celebrity deserves to be protected through an injunction.
  • In the case of Anil Kapoor, the Delhi High Court granted ex-parte, omnibus injunction restraining 16 entities from using Kapoor’s name, likeness, image, using technological tools like Artificial Intelligence, face morphing and even GIFs for monetary gain or commercial purpose.
  • An ex-parte injunction is when relief is granted to a party without hearing the other side. An omnibus injunction refers to an injunction granted against any unauthorised use- even those that are not mentioned in the plea.
  • The injunction acts as a deterrent. However, even when a Court grants an injunction, it is not easy for a celebrity to track all misuse and take action. The celeb has to then issue a takedown order to an online intermediary like Google to have them removed. These legal processes have significant costs involved but could still be beneficial compared to the loss in revenue to the celebrity.

Other examples: 

  • Rajinikanth’s name, Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone