Indian Court gives landmark judgement protecting Personality Rights

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Personality rights refer to the rights a person has against an unauthorised and ill intended use of their name, image, voice or anything immediately related to them, without their consent. This right might seem obvious, but a solid legal framework protecting this right is generally missing worldwide.

Delhi High Court had been hearing a plea filed by the legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan against the misuse of his name in fake KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) scams and other malicious activities online using his name and voice to mislead the public. Kaun Banega Crorepati is the Indian adaptation of Who wants to be a Millionaire, which the actor hosts as well.

The show gives a unique opportunity to people from lower and middle income strata to win literally millions overnight by applying their knowledge. However, numerous scams related to the show have been operating online that use Mr. Bachchan’s image to promulgate.

Mr. Bachchan is a widely popular name in India and is associated with high standards of credibility and professionalism. However, the same is used to propagate scams as simple minded people naively associate Mr. Bachchan’s image with authenticity. Apart from this, there is also an issue of brand protection. 

The case has also mentioned the use of domain names related to him. Domain names like AmitabhBachchan.com and AmitabhBachchan.in were registered by parties unrelated to the popular celebrity. Many times his image was used on T-Shirts and other merchandise without his permission.

Being widely popular, Mr. Bachchan quite often, is used by other entertainers through mimicking, imitating mannerisms or usage in imagery. It is not uncommon to see caricatures of him being used in popular events like Awards shows, Entertainment Dailies or Reality TV shows.

The actor has now cracked upon all the activities that use his name without taking prior consent of him first. A substantial amount of money is generated using his name, upon which the actor didn’t have much say. Neither was he accorded with his rightful royalty in such cases.

The Court granted an injunction in favour of Mr.Bachchan restraining any entity from using the actor’s name, image, personality or anything directly related to him without his consent. The court also directed the telecom authorities to block links related to him. Numbers related to the individual who registered domain names were noted and the authorities were ordered to prevent them from further registering domain names related to him.

The judgement has however started a debate revolving around the legitimacy, scope and legal backing of Personality Rights. Although all nations have stringent regulations protecting brands from Trademark Violations, Personality Rights do not find direct mention in legal books. Personality Rights are exercised, however their basis is usually the Privacy Rights or previous judgement of Courts.

Canada is among the few countries that has taken Personality Rights seriously. Various states in the country have implemented legislation providing Personality Rights. A limited Right to Personality is also granted in the common law. 

Perhaps, one of the major hindrance in enacting Personality Rights is the conflict of it with the Freedom of Speech. There can be instances when these provisions are at loggerheads with each other, such as one might criticise an entity exercising their Freedom of Speech, while the other party might consider it as a violation of their Personality Traits. Although, criticism as long as it is Civil should be allowed. However, when there is monetary benefit associated with the usage, Personality Right should hold an upper hand.

We sincerely hope that Personality Right gets discussed more often. People do have an economical right to use the personality they cultivated over decades to be used as they find it fit, and according to their consent.

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