The term ‘Image Rights UK’ refers to an individual’s right to control how their persona – their physical appearance, voice, signature and other distinguishing features – is used in the UK. For celebrities, endorsement and sponsorship deals are hugely lucrative, with many earning more from licensing their image than their ‘day jobs’. Having control over the use of their image is, therefore, of considerable importance to those in the public eye. Even those of us who are not lucky enough to make millions from our image might expect to have a degree of control over it. If we are photographed without our approval, can we prevent those photographs from being published? Conversely, can we legally use someone’s image in connection with merchandise or other goods or services without first seeking their permission?
The Law Relating To Image Rights In The UK
The legal landscape governing image rights in the UK is complicated and difficult to navigate. Unlike other jurisdictions, such as the US and France, image rights are not expressly recognised under English law. There is no ‘image rights’ statute or case law to which we can refer when seeking to control the use of our image or for clarity on where we stand when using a third party’s image. Instead, lawyers specialising in image rights in the UK rely on a mix of long-established legal principles to protect their clients’ rights or ensure that a client’s proposed use of an image is within the confines of the law.
Which laws are commonly used in the context of image rights in the UK?
The European Convention on Human Rights (to which the UK Government currently remains committed post-Brexit) provides everybody with a ‘right to respect’ for their private and family life. As such, it can be a helpful tool in the protection of image rights in the UK to the extent that there was an expectation of privacy on the part of the person whose image has been used. Naomi Campbell, for example, succeeded in a claim against the Mirror newspaper after it published a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous session. A crucial factor in such cases is that they must involve an element of privacy; the mere taking and publishing of a photograph without permission will not amount to a breach of privacy. In Ms Campbell’s case, the fact that the circumstances surrounding the photograph related to her treatment for addiction was key to the success of her claim.
‘Passing off’ is a tortious remedy aimed at preventing people or businesses from giving the impression that their goods or services are in some way connected with a third party when they are not. In the context of image rights, passing off is of most use to celebrities who routinely licence the use of their image. Rihanna, for example, succeeded in a passing off claim against the high street retailer Topshop after they produced t-shirts featuring an image of her which was similar to one which she had licensed for use on official merchandise. A key element of the tort of passing off is that there has been a misrepresentation to the public – if the entity producing the goods makes it clear that they are in no way connected with the person whose image has been used, they may escape liability.
If the unauthorised use of a person’s image damages their reputation, the law of defamation may come into play. Since defamation requires an element of ‘serious harm’, its application to image rights in the UK is fairly narrow. Situations in which it may be invoked might include the use of a celebrity’s image in connection with products which go against their ethics – a vegan celebrity’s image to market animal products, for example – or if an individual’s image appears alongside copy discussing criminal activity or the like.
Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual property rights are commonly used by those seeking to protect their image rights in the UK. Many celebrities register their name and other distinguishing features as trademarks, for example, which gives them a degree of control over their use. Copyright law applies to artistic works, including photographs, and allows the owner (usually the photographer) to prevent third-party copying, including the application of the photograph to merchandise and other goods.
Lawyers Specialising In Image Rights In The UK
The law governing image rights in the UK is complex and constantly evolving. It is, therefore, crucial to take advice from a specialist UK image rights lawyer when seeking to control the use of your image or use someone else’s image in connection with your goods or services. UK image rights lawyers regularly advise clients who feel aggrieved that their image has been used without their consent, as well as those seeking to commercially exploit an image. Their clients include individuals in the public eye who monetise their image by way of endorsement or sponsorship, businesses entering into agreements to use a third party’s image on official merchandise, and those requiring advice on how they might use somebody’s image in connection with goods and services. If your image is used without your consent, UK image rights lawyers will consider which legal principles might provide redress. Conversely, they will act on your behalf if you are accused of unlawfully using another’s image.
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