India’s record-breaking performance at the Tokyo Olympics, securing seven medals, marked a historic moment in the nation’s sports history. However, post-Olympics, a critical issue emerged: the protection of individuals’ reputation and image in India. Many businesses, including major brands, utilized athletes’ names and images without authorization for advertising. Notably, gold medalist Neeraj Chopra and badminton star PV Sindhu were prominently featured. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) objected to unauthorized usage, emphasizing the need for legal authorization. The concept of “image rights” encompasses an individual’s ownership over their name, likeness, and associated attributes, ensuring the protection of their holistic identity.
Abused Athlete Image Rights
By tapping into the athletes’ goodwill and reputation, companies may be able to get more customers. Still, it’s a problem when businesses use their image in the wrong way. If a player doesn’t want to be associated with promoting a certain brand or product, then the illegal use of his image would affect his ability to make decisions. In the case of Sourav Ganguly v. Tata Tea Ltd., for example, Tata Tea was running a campaign to help customers congratulate him by giving them a postcard with their tea. This was done without the cricket player’s permission or knowledge. Ganguly got relief from the court by holding that “fame and make up an intellectual property right.”
A cigarette business used John Terry’s image without his permission. His lawyers asked India to remove the photo. He condemned Gold Flake on Instagram and said he dislikes smoking. When this was brought up to the Indian government, the official was more concerned with the image’s quality than its infringement. This shows how lightly they’re treated. In Puma Se v. UniQlo, the latter utilized the former’s emblem and ONE8, a Virat Kohli-Puma clothing brand. This was done to garner clients and profit from Kohli’s name. Misrepresentation and image rights violation.
Image Rights and IPR
People know that celebrities often let people use their voice, skill, act, or name for both commercial and non-commercial reasons. And if the same thing is done without the permission of the public figure or celebrity in question, it will be a violation of their image rights. This is not specifically recognized by Indian law, but it is indirectly mentioned in the IPR law.
Copyright Act, 1957: The Indian copyright act doesn’t define the words “personalities” or “celebrities.” But in the 2012 case of Titan industries ltd. vs. m/s Ram Kumar jewelers, the word “celebrity” was defined as a person who is well-known or just someone who a lot of people talk about or know about.
“Performer’s right” is defined in Section 38, which also says that the performer’s right will be available for 50 years after the start of the calendar year that comes after the year in which the performance took place.
Trademark act, 1999: The Indian trademark law doesn’t say how to protect the rights to a person’s image or personality. But section 2(m) includes “names” in its definition of what a “mark” is.
Several Indian celebrities, like Baba Ramdev and Kajol, have tried to protect their names by getting trademarks.
Section 14 is about using the name or a picture of a living person or a person who has just died. The law limits claim that falsely imply a connection with a living person or a person who died less than twenty years before the date of the application for the trademark in question.
Section 35 talks about the legitimate use of a name. In the case of Precious jewels & anr vs. Varun fems, both the plaintiff and the defendant firms are related and have the same last name, “Rakyab.” The person who brought the case asked the court to stop the defendant from doing business under the trademark of their last name, “RAKYAT.” The Supreme Court turned down the plaintiff’s claim, citing Section 35 of the Trademark Act to say that anyone can run a business in their own name as long as it is done in good faith.
The worth of relationships and reputation lies in the appreciation of fans. This intangible value is based on the belief that a player’s endorsement enhances brand visibility and favorability. The team engages in player sponsorship deals, leveraging athletes as marketers who promote products through their skill, persona, and performance. A sportsperson benefits financially from their fame through publicity and image rights. The marketability of an athlete is influenced by their personality and physical attributes, encompassing appearance, demeanor, and voice. Athlete endorsements play a pivotal role in elevating product sales and enhancing credibility.
In today’s fiercely competitive business landscape, it becomes absolutely crucial to adopt “reasonable measures” to safeguard intellectual assets. Backed by decades of expertise in business law, and intellectual property, our firm is ready to discuss and address your legal concerns effectively.