Co-Author Mackenzie Stout, J.D. Candidate 2014, Seattle University School of Law.
Personality rights are big business throughout the globe. Celebrities often license third parties the right to use their images and likenesses for thousands, even millions of dollars. For example, boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s personality rights were recently sold for $62 million. Yet, protection for these quasi-property rights varies from country-to-country, often limiting the degree to which celebrities, as well as ordinary persons and businesses, can protect their distinctive personal traits from unauthorized use at home and abroad.
Guernsey, the autonomous British possession and well-known tax haven island off the coast of France, recently made a bold move towards greater recognition of personality rights. By passing the Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance, 2012 (“Ordinance”), Guernsey now grants personality rights protection to several personality traits and parties not granted under most national legal systems. By establishing the first ever registry of personality and image rights, and giving a registrant (including non-personalities) the ability to register the personality and image of a personality they intend to commercially manage, the Ordinance gives many persons and businesses the potential ability to protect their personal traits throughout the world.
So how does Guernsey’s new personality rights laws provide these protections?
What’s Is Registrable? As mentioned, Guernsey’s Ordinance allows the registration of personalities and images in Guernsey as a property right, much like a trademark or copyright registration. Personalities that can be registered include: (1) natural persons; (2) legal persons; (3) joint personalities (two or more persons who are intrinsically linked in the eyes of the public); (4) groups (whose membership can be interchangeable); and (5) human or non-human fictional characters. Such registration eligibility provides several advantages. First, the personality of a deceased natural person can be registered for up to 100 years after a person’s death and there is no fame or public recognition threshold necessary for registration. This means that any personage, no matter how well known, can be registered. Second, legal entities, such as businesses, foundations, and trusts, are now eligible to register as personalities, giving them the same rights and privileges to protect their personal traits as actual people.
Images associated with a registered personality may also be registered. Registrable images include an individual’s name or alias, voice, signature, likeness, appearance, silhouette, feature, face and even mannerisms. The proprietor of a registered personality has exclusive rights in the images registered against or associated with that personality. Even unregistered images may be protected if they are closely related to the personality. However, like any trademark or copyright registration, registering a personality or image in Guernsey’s Image Rights Register (“Register”) gives a proprietor of a personality or image rights more convincing evidence of ownership over such personality or image.
How Can a Personality or Image be Registered? A proprietor can register their personality or image rights in Guernsey in person or online. Like trademarks and copyright, an applicant should first conduct a search (known as clearance) for their personality rights in the Register, searching existing registrations for personalities and images that may preclude their own registration. If a personality or image registration application is accepted by the Guernsey Intellectual Property Office, it is published on the Register for one month, during which any person or entity may comment on and/or file a notice of opposition against the application. If no opposition is filed, the personality or image is registered with the effective date being the original filing date of the personality or image application. A personality or image registration is valid for ten years, and is renewable for subsequent ten-year periods.
How Do You Enforce Your Rights in a Registered Personality or Image? A registrant of a personality or image under the Ordinance would have to likely seek enforcement through Guernsey’s legal system, and then obtain a foreign enforcement of such a judgment abroad in order to effectively utilize Guernsey’s new image rights laws. A registrant may only file an infringement proceeding in Guernsey under the Ordinance if: (a) an infringing image is used for a commercial purpose or financial benefit; and (b) the infringing image is: (i) identical or similar to the protected image; (ii) confusingly similar to the protected image; or (iii) similar to the protected image and takes advantage of or is detrimental to the distinctive character or reputation of the registered personality. Exceptions to such infringement include any use of a registered personality or image related to education, news reporting, or incidental inclusions, where, for example, an image of the registered personality appears in the background of a television segment unrelated to the image or the registered personality.
If a registrant is able to succeed in a legal proceeding in Guernsey, they would likely need to seek foreign enforcement of such judgment abroad in order to effectively enforce their personality rights. As the vast majority of infringers will likely not be domiciled in Guernsey, a registrant will likely need to have a foreign Court enforce their Guernsey judgment in order to enforce their Guernsey image rights registration(s) abroad. The chances of being able to obtain such foreign enforcement depend on a number of factors including reciprocal enforcement arrangements between Guernsey and the country where the infringing party is domiciled, as well as the foreign jurisdiction’s own personality rights laws.
What’s The Takeaway? The implications of Guernsey’s Ordinance have yet to be fully realized, but any person or business wishing to protect their personality rights or limit their liability from the same should pay close attention to the Ordinance’s new legislation. Although Guernsey’ Ordinance appears to expand the types of entities and personal traits that qualify for personality rights, determining whether a foreign Court will recognize these new personality rights in their own jurisdiction remains to be seen. Persons and businesses wishing to obtain personality and image registrations in Guernsey should work closely with qualified counsel in order to better ensure proper registration of such rights.