Guernsey: Image Rights — A Silver Bullet

Last Updated: 11 June 2013
Article by Jose Luis Romanillos

Most Read Contributor in Guernsey, September 2018

Jose Luis Romanillos, Managing Director and Founder of Finsbury Image Rights (Guernsey), takes a closer look at Guernsey's world-first image rights legislation.

"What do you do exactly, Uncle Pepe, as an Image Rights Agent?" my 21 year-old niece asked me the other day.

She had been looking me up on Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as via the Guernsey Finance website.

This was a fairly loaded question as she herself is starting up her own Social Media business in the UK and was looking for any ideas that could possibly assist her with her own company. Or even provide her with some clients. "It sounds really cool. Do you get to meet all these stars?"

"Do you want the long or the short answer, Dulcie?" I replied. "Long one, please." And so I did...

To cut a longish story short we sat down over a cup of tea and I proceeded to give her a bit of my background in the finance world, followed by the story of Guernsey's Image Rights legislation. This did not interest her hugely, I could sense, but she did start to get a little more alert when I started to talk to her about my clients and how I had managed to sign them up to the register.

"How did you manage to persuade them to do it? Must have been tricky, as it is totally new - and people are always worried by new stuff...right?"

OK. So first of all, you get your prospective client. They can be an individual or an entity (a legal person) and their world should be in the public arena in some way - be it business, professional, media, sport, music, entertainment - in other words, they depend to a lesser or greater degree on their image being used for commercial purposes and financial gain. This image can be their physical image or a representative image such as a company logo.

Now, these images are very important to these celebrities. For some of them (eg. David Beckham and Mo Farrah) the bulk of their income comes not from what they do but from their image which is used and exploited to endorse and sell products. What they want is to ensure their image continues to provide them with income (you could say it is their pension), is not exploited by "naughty" third parties trying to piggy-back off their name and also, they do not want their name to be tarnished by some inappropriate usage that could result in them losing their entire image income. This is at the heart of the reason why the Guernsey Image Rights legislation came into being - to provide protection. Currently, if someone exploits your image for commercial purposes without your consent then your only recourse, if there is no agreement, is to sue them.

The examples of this are numerous, and there are some very recent ones - actors Liam Neeson and Brad Cooper ref The A Team, Shoemakers Foster & Son against Brooks Brothers, USA and Gita Hall May ref Mad Men. They have all gone to court, which is a risky business and potentially costly. Guernsey's Image Rights legislation provides an additional weapon in the armoury of these individuals and their lawyers - a registration of their image rights confirms that the image has been registered and it has a value (i.e. it is an asset). Therefore, not only does the IR registration provide additional protection for one's image, in addition to what is already out there, but it can also be used as a threat, a stick to wave at potential infringers, thereby reducing the need to seek a court judgement and application of a court order.

Sounds OK, yes? Well, the reactions I had to this Image Rights story were one of great interest and admiration for Guernsey's efforts in creating this innovative legislation. But there was also some puzzlement. I highlight some of the questions that were thrown at me:-

  • How could I enforce an infringement, say in Holland?
  • What's really in it for me?
  • Does Image Rights Law replace Copyright & Trade Mark?
  • How do I sell it to my clients? (This one came from various Private Bankers and RMs).

There were also a number of somewhat unusual but thought-provoking questions, including:-

  • Can I register a horse?
  • I want to register someone who is not famous? Say the mother-in-law?
  • Could I register my next film - including the characters? (This came from a TV & Film Director friend of mine).

As a former schoolmaster I have always found that the best way of "explaining" is via an example, rather than theorisations and general explanations, so I described an actual client take-on of mine - Eleftheria Kotzia, a Greek classical guitarist. Her registration, number GG-IR006, went live on 28th February 2013.

I knew Eleftheria from way back when, via my family's guitar business. She is now acknowledged as one of the top three female classical guitarists in the world. She also invented her own guitar-playing method for children – "Le Cahier de la Guitarre". I had mentioned the Image Rights to her last year in conversation and initially she had been undecided about it.

Over the following months we discussed the matter, as she did with the French publisher of her book. She raised a number of the above queries, which I answered as follows:-

On the infringement issue, yes we would need to obtain initially a court ruling here in Guernsey, and then take this court order to the jurisdiction of the infringement. The fact that Guernsey is looking to sign up to the Berne Convention and then the Madrid Protocol (International registration of Trade Marks) will undoubtedly help this cause. There would still be no guarantee of success, but at present, it is certainly better than nothing – which is what we had until the Guernsey Image Rights legislation came into being, as it can support the protection of a person's Image Rights.

And of course, it has to be worthwhile commercially – in other words, there is no real point if we are talking about relatively small amounts of money.

Does Image Rights law replace existing intellectual property practice? In a word – no. Although modelled on Trade Mark, the new Image Rights legislation has been designed to complement and work together with Patent, Trade Mark and Copyright. So no conflicts there.

On the issue of value and what was in it for her, this was far easier to explain and prove – and herein lay my "silver bullet" for Eleftheria, the Image Rights Register itself. In addition to the above-mentioned significant benefits to the Image Rights legislation (protection and threat), what's in it for them is linked to the nature of their business. They are individuals or legal entities whose livelihoods depend to a greater or lesser degree on their image – its exploitation, usage and marketing potential.

In the register itself we have the perfect marketing and promotional tool. This is because unlike the world of Trusts, Image Rights are a public record. Anyone can visit and log onto the Guernsey Registry website, and then study the Image Rights register, the individuals registered, as well as the list of Agents and all the related documentation – http://www.guernseyregistry.com/.

This is gold dust (or should I say silver?), in terms of marketing and advertising – and proved to be the deciding factor for Eleftheria. Like all artists in the public arena, she is always looking to develop her profile and increase her record sales. She realised that if all these professional people globally were viewing her details via the IR Register (lawyers, advisors, trustees, accountants, private bankers, agents, etc.) then here was in effect a very targeted way of promoting her product and image. She agreed to be registered.

Indeed, within a matter of months I was able to demonstrate that her IR registration had been a marketing coup for her. Her website had seen an extremely high and sudden increase in hits; her record sales (particularly of her prize-winning album "The Blue Guitar") had seen a jump in downloads; and I had been contacted by half a dozen financial institutions wishing to take me out to lunch to "discuss opportunities". Well, a quick look at the list of registered Image Rights Agents gives a clue as to who is looking at this register – and looking on a regular basis. As many of these companies are "globally-linked" entities, it is easy to see how this can "go viral" pretty quickly.

As a result of the above, Eleftheria then agreed to come over to Guernsey to play a concert for me at St James (Saturday 1st June 2013) to promote her registration – the first guitarist on the register, and the first one for Finsbury Image Rights (Guernsey) Ltd.

The process of registration itself was surprisingly straightforward. I got her to sign the various forms that are required for a client to sign up, (including consent, fees and indemnification), and asked her to provide me with the basic due diligence that I also insist upon, even though I may know my clients well. I make a point of meeting with them and even take photographs, when and where appropriate.

Then came the registration process, via the Guernsey Registry website. A basic set of forms were needed to be completed – one for the "personality", and then another one for the "image" that had been selected to represent the person. I also had to send through the image selected with Eleftheria. I had also ensured that the photograph was in her ownership – i.e. not assigned to the photographer or any other third party. A fee of £1,000 was then required, which covers the registration of the individual for 10 years together with one "free" image. If I had wanted to attach additional images, this would have cost a further £100 per image. For registration of a legal person (i.e. a Company), this will cost £2,000 and am currently working on not one but two of these.

This registration then sat in the "Publications Journal" for 20 working days, during which period it was available for public inspection and comment. The following month, a set of certificates landed on my doormat. These certificates confirmed the registration of Eleftheria's Image Rights which are her own personal assets. These Image Rights, if she wants, can be valued, traded, sold, added to a portfolio and even used for collateral. This registration will then need to be renewed in 10 years' time – which I think actually represents great value at £100 per year.

All together, from start to finish, the process of signing up my first client took me about 5 months, and involved several meetings in London and numerous communications. It is always a challenge explaining new ideas and convincing people of their merit. But hopefully this is just the start, and things look like they are starting to speed up.

It was clear that my niece had been listening because when I asked her to repeat to me the advantages and benefits of registering one's image she came out with each one:-

  • Protection
  • Threat
  • Marketing
  • Promotion
  • Kudos

She then added the following comment, which showed that her head was screwed on properly. "Also, Uncle Pepe, could you say it's a bit like having a harmless bet? A bit like Pascal's Wager, in fact – like betting on God's existence, because in essence one has nothing to lose."

These youngsters today are brighter than we think. Yes, there are numerous other benefits and magic bullets, which we discussed...but I will save these for another time and place – perhaps my next London seminar. I would not wish to give away too many trade secrets to my fellow IR Agents – perhaps I should register these "Silver Bullets" beforehand? Oh, and by the way, what about the horse, the mother-in-law and the film? The answer to all three is, yes.

Finsbury Image Rights (Guernsey) Limited - Intellectual Property company specialising in Image Rights, Trade Mark, Public Relations, Marketing and Agency work for the Music, Sports and Entertainment industries.

5 St James Street, St Peter Port, Guernsey, GY1 2NZ Telephone: +44 (0) 1481 726276 E-mail: joseromanillos@finsbury-ci.com

For more information about Guernsey's finance industry please visit www.guernseyfinance.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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