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MC Explains | What personality rights Amitabh Bachchan is trying to protect?

Moneycontrol finds out what personality right entails and what action Amitabh Bachchan can be taken against those who use his name without consent.

November 26, 2022 / 07:24 AM IST

No person can use the name, image, voice and other personality attributes of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan without his consent after the Delhi High Court passed an order restraining infringement of the actor’s personality rights.

Bachchan’s lawyer argued that the actor faces the prospect of financial and reputational losses as many websites and mobile applications are using his name, photos and voice to lure customers. The star has also sought a restraining order against publishers, T-shirt vendors and various other businesses in a bid to protect his personality rights.

But what are personality rights?

“In the simplest sense, personality rights are the rights of famous personalities and celebrities whose name, voice, signature or any other personality trait has commercial value and can mobilise and influence the public at large. One such personality right is the right of publicity which recognises the commercial value of a photograph or representation of a prominent person and protects his proprietary interest in the profitability of his public reputation,” said Tushar Agarwal, a Supreme Court advocate.

He further explained that the essence of personality rights is that if any celebrity or famous personality feels that some person or company is using any of his personality traits for commercial purposes or using that trait for its profitability without his consent, the said celebrity can approach the court and seek restraining orders in this regard.

Another lawyer said that this right gained prominence after Hollywood actors Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas sued Hello! magazine. “When the Hollywood actors got married and Hello! took their pictures and put it in their publication, they sued the magazine. The actor-couple had also granted the licence to take photos of their wedding to another magazine. The court was of the opinion that Hello! magazine was interfering in the economics of a person’s livelihood and, therefore, said it will protect their personality right.”

The lawyer added that not many people have enforced personality rights.

Back home, superstar Rajnikanth had filed a suit in the Madras High Court against the release of a film titled Main Hoon Rajnikanth on the ground that it would cause gross damage to his goodwill, infringe his personality rights and cause deception in the minds of the public, pointed out celebrity lawyer Zameer Nathani. “The court had granted an interim injunction (restraining order) in favour of Rajnikanth against the release of the film.”

On the significance of the Delhi High court order in Bachchan’s case, Abhinay Sharma, managing partner at Delhi-based law firm ASL Partners, said that the interim order sets the framework for the protection of the personality rights of famous individuals.

“For instance, the interim order would ensure that the identity of a famous personality or celebrity cannot be used in advertisements for commercial purposes unless the consent and approval of the respective personality regarding the time, place, and nature of usage is taken.”

However, the position and development of personality or celebrity rights and laws in India is still at a nascent stage, said Agarwal.

What action can be taken against those using Bachchan’s name, image, voice or other personality traits without his permission?

Bachchan can sue for copyright infringement and breach of personality rights, said Pooja Tidke, the senior partner at the Mumbai-headquartered Parinam Law Associates.

After the Delhi High Court Order, if a person or company uses any of Bachchan’s personality traits for commercial purposes without his consent, that person will not only be liable to pay damages to the actor but will also be liable for punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act for disobeying an order of a constitutional court, noted Agarwal.

Action can also be initiated under the Copyright Act, of 1957, and Trademark Act, of 1999, said Nathani.

What does the Delhi HC order mean for those currently using Bachchan’s personality traits?

All the defendants in the suit including publisher Manoj Publications have to stop using Bachchan’s personality traits with immediate effect, said Agarwal.

“The Delhi High Court has acknowledged that goods and services cannot be promoted without prior authorisation or permission of the celebrity and this is rightly stated by court considering it will not only deceive the consumer but will also cause irreparable harm and disrepute to the celebrity since the celebrity may face a backlash due to harm caused to any consumer from any goods or services that the celebrity is not even associated with. If the orders are passed in favour of the celebrity, the infringers will have to stop the usage,” explained Kritika Seth, founding partner, Victoriam Legalis, a Mumbai-based law firm.

Will entertainers, and mimicry artistes in films and TV have to stop use of Bachchan’s name and voice?  

“As far as mimicry artistes are concerned, it is a grey area as after the boom of the internet and social media, there are a lot of individuals and entities involved in such infringement and, therefore, it depends on a case-to-case basis if fair usage is involved,” said Seth.

ASL Partners’ Sharma said that mimicry artistes will be protected under the rights of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 and free use regime in IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) which is a right given to persons over the creations of their minds.

“In my opinion, this order will not come in the way of mimicry artists because personality rights are only concerned with illegal use of personality traits without consent for commercial purposes and inducing the general public to purchase a particular product or avail of a service by misrepresenting that the same has been endorsed by a celebrity. In mimicry, no such angle of commerciality and profitability is involved. Mimicry is just for entertainment purposes,” said Agarwal.
Maryam Farooqui
first published: Nov 25, 2022 07:00 pm