Introduction - A celebrity is a famous person who is known by the masses. Movie & Television personalities, Sportspersons, Musicians, political figures, and anybody else who is widely known fall under the purview of the term "celebrity". The Delhi High Court in the case of Titan Industries vs. Rajkumar Jewellers1 stated that "...a celebrity is defined as a famous or a well-known person. A "celebrity" is merely a person who 'many' people talk about or know about."
Celebrity laws are not statutory but are protected under copyright and trademark laws. A plethora of rights is associated with them as individuals and famous personalities. Right to privacy, right to reproduce and distribute, character rights, and other such rights are available to them. This article discusses the infringement of those rights.
Big-name brands and companies also sometimes infringe trademark laws to market their products or services to people by using celebrity names and the trademarks associated with them. For example, in the case of SourabGanguly vs. Tata tea Ltd.2, The plaintiff, a famous cricket star, was aggrieved by the use of his personality in postcards that the defendant, a tea company, was selling along with packets of tea. It was held by the hon'ble court that Sourav Ganguly's fame and personality were his intellectual property and cannot be used without his prior consent by anyone.
In the case of Sonu Nigam vs. Amrik Sigh (Mika Singh)3, the defendant was asked to pay Rs. 10 lac to the plaintiff. Both parties are very popular playback singers for movies. They both were attending a function where they were photographed with prior consent by them. Then later on the defendant used the photographs on posters for promotion. The posters, however, contained an enlarged picture of him and smaller pictures of Sonu Nigam and some other artists. The plaintiff argued that the posters depict a comparison of fame and popularity between Mika Singh and others in the posters including the plaintiff. The court agreed to the plaintiff's contention and along with the damages, Mika Singh was restrained from further using those posters.
Celebrities have all distinct and recognizable personalities, looks, or other such traits which are associated with them. To protect the exploitation of that, celebrities have personality rights which are also sometimes called celebrity rights. These rights are mainly concerned with well-known personalities. Any kind of exploitation of the intellectual property attached to their celebrity status is a violation of their personality rights. As seen above, a lot of time unauthorized use of celebrities' images, voices, and personality traits, among other things is done for commercial or non-commercial purposes.
The Amitabh Bachchan case - Actor Amitabh Bachchan was recently granted an ad interim ex-parte injunction by the Delhi HC that prohibits the imitation of his voice, name, and pictures. Mr. Bachchansought the same after a fake lottery scam based on the show Kaun Banega Crorepati along with similar online scams, was uncovered.The injunction restrains the defendants from using his name and the famous nicknames associated with him such as - "BigB", "AB", etc. The injunction also restrains the use of his iconic baritone voice, and images for personal or commercial purposes, without prior consent from him. The court found that there was an infringement of Amitabh Bachchan's personality and publicity rights.
Mr. Bachchan has "control over commercial utilization of his personality, name, voice, image, likeness and other characteristics that are uniquely identifiable and associated with him". Misappropriation, utilization, and imitation of his personality for commercial use or otherwise amount to an infringement of his rights. In 2018, the actor also sought remedy and injunction over the use of his distinct baritone voice as the same was used by a tobacco manufacturer for marketing purposes.
According to the court in the current case, "The defendants appear to be using his celebrity status for promoting their own activities without his authorization or permission. The plaintiff is therefore likely to suffer grave irreparable harm or injury to his reputation. In fact, some of the activities complained of may also bring disrepute."The court also directed The Department of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to take down all providers and websites enabling the violation of Mr. Bachchan's personality rights. Telecom service providers were also directed to block all phone numbers that were used to circulate the scam in Whatsapp and other such messaging apps. The plea not only pertained to the defendants but to other "John Doe" parties which have done similar acts.
Conclusion - Misuse of personality rights is rampant in India. It causes a lot of monetary loss to celebrities, and sometimes also their goodwill. The absence of statutory celebrity rights is concerning. Even a proper definition of a "celebrity" is not given in any statute. Hence, it is time for lawmaker's frame appropriate laws in this regard as celebrities are assets to their respective industries, and infringement of their rights have an adverse effect on them, whether directly or indirectly. Not only that, Celebrities are in the end people and they have their right to privacy too, which is also attached to the infringement of their personality rights as celebrities.
1.Titan Industries Ltd. v. Ramkumar Jewellers [2012 (50) PTC 486 (Del)]
2.Sourav Ganguly vs Tata Tea Ltd [CS no. 361 of 1997]
3.Sonu Nigam v Amrik Singh (alias Mika Singh) &Anr.; CS 372/2013(Bombay High Court)
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