India: Being Famous: A Boon Or A Bane?

"I give the fight up: let there be an end, a privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God"- Robert Browning, a famous poet and dramatist.

The word "CELEBRITY" in itself brings the picture of a person with name, fame and popularity, always gathered by crowd, in our minds. The word "celebrity" owes its origin to the Latin term "celebritatem" which means "the condition of being famous". The official definition of the term celebrity may be stated as "a person, who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media".1 Even the slightest details of these celebrities are treated as news by all. Being continuously in the limelight, under the vision of camera, however, fascinating it may sound but it has its own consequences. With the expansion and development of technology related to mass-media, there has been a considerable increase in the instances where the privacy rights of celebrities have been abused and infringed by the general public. Every celebrity has the right of protecting and enjoying the rights like right of publicity or right to earn commercial benefits arising out of their identity without getting interfered or intruded upon in their privacy.

Types Of Celebrity Rights

The rights which can be exercised by a celebrity include multi-dimensional rights. A broad classification of these rights may be as follows

  • PRIVACY RIGHTS- The mere fact that the celebrities are famous personalities and public is keen to know about even the slightest details of their lives, does not disentitle them from the enjoyment of their right to privacy like any normal citizen of the country. The Indian Courts on various occasions have upheld the view that Right to Privacy is available to the Citizens of India as an ingredient in Right to Life provided in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.2 The courts have expressly stated that "the right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It is a "right to be let alone". A citizen has a right "to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, childbearing and education among other matters".3 In western countries the intrusion by press in the private life of celebrities (paparazzi)4 is often criticized on grounds of being invasive and intrusive merely for commercial purposes. While discussing the privacy rights of celebrities and famous personalities, the US Courts have stated that "In publishing details of private matters, the media may report accurately and yet –at least on some occasions- may be found liable for damages. Lawsuits for defamation will not stand where the media have accurately reported the truth, but the media nevertheless could lose an action for invasion of privacy based on similar facts situations. In such instances the truth sometimes hurt."5
  • PUBLICITY RIGHTS- The basic idea behind this right is that a person, who has put in capital and labor in building a repute and stature associated with his name, has the exclusive right of commercially exploiting it. It gives celebrities, the right of exclusive enjoyment and exploitation of anything that is associated with them and their personae. Apart from this, it also acts as a negative right of eliminating any kind of unauthorized use of their name and fame. Earlier, the performers and artists have the rights like right of voice; right to likeness (the right of limiting the public use of one's personality or anything associated with it) etc. but now with the development of technology, the visual and sound recording equipments are also causing great harm to the individuals. Such techniques have given birth to problems like "bootlegging". Bootlegging may be defined as an unauthorized recording of live performances. Further, lately there have also been various instances where the images, voices etc. of celebrities are copied and manipulated on various sites. With the advent of latest technology, it is now very easy to create a digital look alike of any person and manipulate it accordingly.This has been causing huge losses through defamation and confusion to the celebrities.

Publicity rights can be best illustrated through the case of Midler v Ford Motor Co & Others6. In this case the advertising company wanted to use a song which was in the voice of Bette Midler for the advertisement of the company, but Ms. Midler refused to give her version of song for the advertisement.The company then hired another singer to sing the song in a manner which was as much as possible similar to the Midler version. Ms Midler sued the company when the advertisement was aired. The court granted relief to the plaintiff saying that "publicity rights of people are their own property and is also one of the attributes of one's identity".

  • PERSONALITY RIGHTS- Belonging to the species of copyrights personality rights are also an outcome of the efforts and labor of an individual. Personality of a person is a unique and characteristic feature with the help of which an image of that person is created. The personality of a famous person also results in an obvious expectation in the minds of people towards that celebrity. It is often said that "An individual's property is the extension of his personality, similarly, an individual's contributions to the society are also an extension of his personality"7 Talking about the Indian scenario, there have been various cases where the celebrities have raised their voice against the unauthorized exploitation of their personality rights. One of the best examples of this may be the issuance of legal notices by the famous South Indian actor Rajnikanth before the release of his film "BABA" in all the leading newspapers. These notices prohibited any kind of use or imitation of his persona, dialogues, or of the character "BABA" for commercial gains by any means. The legendary actor Amitabh Bacchan also lodged a complaint against a Gutkha company who mimicked his voice for promoting and selling their products.


There may be many reasons for protecting celebrity rights like any other right. The few of them may be summed up as follows

  • The celebrity rights are assignable and licensable for commercial exploitation.These rights operate as an incentive and reward for the celebrities in return of their hard work, money and labor.Therefore, they should be given an exclusive right of enjoyment of such rights.
  • To prevent Bootlegging, so that the benefits are enjoyed by the rightful owners.
  • Celebrity rights are also inheritable i.e. the family members of celebrities can enjoy the profits associated with their names and popularity.
  • There are chances that there can be a situation of technological unemployment if the singers and performers are replaced by recorded music and visuals.
  • It also strengthens the small and trivial performers who cannot handle the situation on their own.

Protecting Legislations

  • TRADEMARK- Trademark law gives protection to the movie names, character names etc. this has two folded advantage. First, it enables the intention of the celebrity towards merchandising of his IP through assignment, licensing etc. Secondly, it also enables him to take an action against any other person who is trying to misuse the name or popularity owned by the celebrity.
  • COPYRIGHT- Although the Indian Copyright Law does not grants any protection to the name or image of a celebrity in India, the celebrities may protect their sketches, drawings etc. within the ambits of "artistic work" under the Copyrights Act. Movie names, characters, their names etc can also be protected.
  • PASSING OFF- Passing off actions are involved in cases where there is an unauthorized exploitation of a celebrity's fame and goodwill. Any person who is illegitimately using the reputation and name of another person is liable to be tried under the passing off remedy.
  • COMMON LAW- Apart from all these, a celebrity may also initiate actions under the Law of Torts for defamation and inappropriate use of his fame.


It can be safely concluded that when it comes to celebrity rights there is always a conflict between two fundamental rights i.e. Right to Privacy implied in Right to Life under Article 21 and Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. It is often argued that the general public is the source which makes these celebrities "celebrities" and therefore the press has been provided under Article 19 with the right of publishing information regarding them to the public. The Californian Celebrities Rights Act, 1985, the provisions under the Article 9 of the French Civil Code are some examples of fruitful legislations initiated by the nations for protection of these rights. India does not have any specific law in this regard. Hence, the onus lies on the law makers to bring efficient legislations which maintain a balance between the two Fundamental Rights and serve the dual purpose of protecting the rights of celebrities and also protecting the right of freedom of speech of the media.



2. Kharak Singh Vs State of UP & Ors. [1964] 1 S.C.R. 332--A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 1295

3. R.R. Gopal Vs. State of Tamil Nadu. JT 1994 (6) SC 514

4. "Paparazzi are independent photographers who take pictures of athletes, entertainers, politicians, and other celebrities, usually while they are going about normal life routines. They are unaffiliated with any main stream media."-

5. Barber v. Time, Inc., 159 S.W.2d 291 (Mo. 1942).

6. Midler v. Ford Motor Co. 1988, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 849.F.2d 460

7. Datta A, Celebrity Rights: A legal overview, http:// htm

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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