Thursday, October 29, 2009

Social Networks and the "right of publicity"


While controversies on the "right to publicity" for celebrities is well-known, the Internet is creating new problems - about the "right to publicity" of non-celebrities.

In February this year, Facebook changed its Terms of Service and claimed ownership of all content on its website - even if the user closed his/her account. They had to contend with a flurry of objections and tens of thousands of people closed their accounts. Within a few days, Facebook was forced to roll back to its old terms of service.

An American couple who posted their Christmas card on a social networking site ( found months later that a grocery in Prague had used the photograph on advertisements without seeking their permission! 

In my own case, we got a blown up family colour photograph printed and laminated. As the first lamination was defective, we rejected it,  and got another printout laminated. The store owner put the rejected laminated photograph in his store window - and we came to know of it when several people whom we know asked us whether we were advertising and endorsing the shop! 

In this case, we did not really object.  However, if this had happened in the US, we would have been entitled to sue the shop owner for violation of our "right to publicity", a doctrine well enshrined by a large body of case law involving celebrities as well as non-celebrities. Celebrities who have won right to publicity cases include Woody Allen, Bette Midler and Jacqueline Onassis. In some of these cases, like Onassis' and Midler's cases, the offence was not using their photographs or audio, but using look-alikes and sound-alikes. 

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