Young entrepreneurs have been using celebrities' names, and even famous quotes or catchphrases, for the purpose of branding their businesses or ventures. However, what might have become a lucrative business model for some has led to significant issues for celebrities. The unauthorised use of any attribute of a celebrity, such as their name, image or likeness, can cause serious loss to their reputation and meticulously built "brand value".
Celebrities' personality rights in India have evolved through precedent. The right of publicity – which was recognised by the Delhi High Court in the case of ICC Development (International) Ltd v Arvee Enterprises(1) – allows celebrities to control and protect their identity or personality (eg, their name, likeness and pictures) from being used commercially without consent. The Court also clarified that such rights can only vest in the individual themselves or in their "personality" (eg, their name, signature, voice or even any particular personality trait). In the case of Titan Industries Ltd v M/S Ramkumar Jewellers,(2) the Delhi High Court explored the scope of protection of personality rights and explained that:
- when it comes to celebrities, the key issue surrounding the use of their identity (for any purpose) is who controls it; and
- the right to publicity gives celebrities the right to control where, when and how their commercial identity is used.
Several examples exist of personal names being registered as trademarks in India. Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan and the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar are famous examples of celebrities trademarking their names (and in some cases, even signatures). Such trademarks are then commercialised with cobranding on fragrances and various other products.
That said, Indian trademark law may make the registration of marks that suggest a connection with a living person conditional upon the consent of the person in question. This enables celebrities to monitor any unwarranted use of their names or identities by third parties. A recent example in this regard would be the name "Gigi Hadid" being applied for as a trademark by a seemingly unrelated third party for goods such as handbags. Interestingly enough, the trademark was published and is currently open to third-party oppositions. While Gigi Hadid is a globally renowned model and the example seems like a case of a "false connection" trademark application, it remains to be seen whether this will go unnoticed.
Thus, in a country where celebrities' names are often carelessly advertised by third parties for seemingly unrelated goods and services, it becomes imperative for them to protect their interests – and this has indeed become the trend today, with celebrities increasingly focusing on building and monetising their personal brands. While the IP regime in India is conducive when it comes to protecting celebrity rights, it remains to be seen the extent to which these rights are protected.
For further information on this topic please contact Indira Sahrawat, Meghna Arora or Jannavi Singha at G&W Legal by telephone (+91 11 6134 8306) or email ([email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]). The G&W Legal website can be accessed at www.gnwlegal.com.