Protection Of Image Rights

As major events like the Paris Olympics and Euros elevate athletes' profiles, they rely on protecting and monetizing their "image rights." In the UK, these protections include contractual agreements, registered trademarks, and the tort of passing-off, despite the absence of formal "image right" recognition.
UK Intellectual Property
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Andy Warhol once said, "in the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes", a phrase which now rings true of the modern world. Take the upcoming major sporting events of this year for example, the Paris Olympic Games and the Euros in Germany, which will put sporting stars on the world stage. As a result of the elevation of their profile globally, these individuals rely on the protection of their 'image' and the ability to monetise it through "image rights".

Image right protection in the UK

The definition of "image rights" is wide ranging but is generally the use, exploitation, reproduction of or in association with or otherwise of an individual's personal attributes, such as (but not limited to) name, image or likeness.

As a general principle, under UK law there is no such thing as an "image right" because UK law does not recognise them, however, there are some protections that are available for those who wish to control the use of their image, these include:

Contractual Protection

It is possible to put in place legally effective arrangements for exploitation which will be purely contractual and are likely to impose a series of obligations under a contract to provide promotional services in return for payment.

Registered Trade Marks

A trade mark is something that is "capable of being represented in the register in a manner which enables the registrar and other competent authorities and the public to determine the clear and precise subject matter of the protection afforded to the proprietor, and of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings" (Trade Marks Act 1994). This could be a sign, symbol, design or expression such as Cristiano Ronaldo's "CR7".

The Tort of Passing-off

This is a legal claim which requires a person to show that their goodwill has been damaged by a misrepresentation. It is common where third parties pass off the name or image of a famous person to endorse or advertise a product or service, without the permission of the said famous person.

Why protect image rights?

In a commercial sense, "image rights" can be a valuable tool for monetising an individual's personal brand. It is vital that the legal advisors of individuals and companies carefully review any commercial agreements which assign or license "image rights" to avoid future disputes due to the lack of legal framework for protection of "image rights" in the UK.

Individuals sometimes opt to incorporate a company to which they will assign their "image rights" and this company will then contract with third parties and the revenue from the licensing of the image rights is taxed through that company. This limits the risk of exploitation of the "image rights" by third parties by separating an individual's services as an employee from the commercial services.

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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