The will of late actor Robin Williams states that no one may exploit his persona until 25 years have passed. This has fueled the debate about the Right of Publicity in the UK. It means that you have the right not to allow your image, voice, or likeness to be used for another’s benefit.
The right is challenging not only property rights but, more generally, the right to freedom of expression. It could prove Karl Marx’s claim that everything in modern society has a cost tag. This raises important legal issues that have yet to be resolved in this country. Can the right be transferred if it is recognized? It can be used to secure a loan. Can it be passed down?
Media are at risk. Do broadcasters need to ask for permission to use celebrities or other individuals in programs where they may not want to appear if they are allowed to control their image? They must permit the media in order to publish news of their private lives. Does it matter if it’s accidental or intentional? Does it matter whether it’s the BBC or a commercial outlet like The Sun?
Different countries have different laws. The right to publicity is firmly recognized in most US states and continental European countries, including France and Germany. This includes even after a person dies in California. Williams could, therefore, bequeath the item in his will, just like any other property.
It is good news for media in the UK and other countries like Australia that the courts have not yet recognized a publicity right. The personal attributes of UK celebrities are protected by law in different ways.
His name is Rio. Wikimedia
A breach of confidentiality is one example. This prevents unauthorized and unjustified dissemination of confidential information, subject to a defense of public interest. The Sunday Mirror was able to use this defense in order to report, for example, on the extramarital affairs of former England footballer Rio Ferdinand.
There is also the law of defamation, which allows individuals to take legal action against those who intentionally damage their reputations. Tolley v JS Fry is a good example. In this case, the well-known amateur player Cyril Tolley sued the chocolate manufacturer Fry under defamation for using his image without his consent in their advertising and misleading readers into believing that he endorsed it. He could argue that the advertising of chocolate companies had damaged his reputation as a golfer.
Passing-off is another law that deals with misrepresenting goods as yours or associated with you. This can also be used to protect a person’s name or image.
These rights could not be transferred, and all of them disappeared when the person died. In the US, however, the damage to the victim’s reputation or dignity must be proven. If the attributes of a person were exploited commercially, there would not be a case.
Human Rights Act
Recent developments indicate that the UK is moving closer to a law of publicity more in line with the US. The Human Rights Act of 1998 has made this possible. Requires UK courts to recognize the right to privacy. In recent years, the courts have interpreted the applicable legal principles more expansively.
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones sued Hello! The magazine published photos of the couple’s wedding without their permission. Both the newlyweds and OK! The court awarded the magazine damages. The magazine had exclusive rights to cover the wedding. The court based its decision on the law of violation of confidence but expanded the scope of the action to include information that was not confidential. It did so by highlighting the commercial interest of the wedding information.