Russian Icons are in Need of The Guernsey Image Right

There are few nations for whom the cult of personality matters more than for Russia. A nation shaped so profoundly by powerful leaders across the ages instinctively recognizes the cultural and political importance of strong images. Think of the political giants, the revolutionary leaders. Think of the cultural wealth that Russia has contributed in art and literature. Think of the modern iconography of sport and business. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the modern icons of Russia are worth millions of rubles.

Image rights, like publicity rights, involve the commercial appropriation of a person’s identity and associated images. These include the distinctive expressions, characteristics or attributes of, or associated with, a personality. Many well-known people successfully commercialize their images and enjoy large incomes from such exploitation. Further, there can be value in the celebrity long after that person’s death.

Russian laws regarding personality rights are limited but can found in Part IV of the Russian Civil Code. Article 1511 is entitled “Protection of Image of a Person”. It states that “public disclosure and further use of a person’s image (including his or her photographic picture, video recording, or a work of visual art) are allowed subject to the approval of that person only.” Further, after the person dies, their image may be controlled only by a surviving heir. Another interesting point is that a person’s name must be registered at birth if they wish to have it protected.

The Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance 2012 (IRO) established a new form of intellectual property with a corresponding registry which provides broader rights than any other jurisdictions’ publicity rights. Guernsey created registered personalities. A registered personality is a property right and not just a personal right. This right was previously unrecognized in a registrable form anywhere else in the world. The IRO allows people to take control of not just their image, but their whole personality in a way not possible anywhere else in the world. In simple terms, you can own yourself. You control who uses any aspect of your personality for commercial benefit. It is a bit like trademarking your personality.

There are many benefits to this system. The concept of personality itself is extended to include natural persons (Maria Alexandrova, Roman Abramovich), legal entities (Kaspersky Labs), joint personalities (t.A.T.u.), group personalities (Bolshoi Ballet, Chelsea FC), fictional characters (Prince Myshkin) and deceased personalities (Mikhail Kalishnakov). Anyone can register, you don’t have to be famous to do so. Companies and clubs can add another level of brand protection not previously possible. Families can continue to benefit from the success of loved ones, long since departed, because the property rights created in this manner can be bequeathed from one generation to the next.

In the context of the law (IRO s 3(1)(b) and (c)), ‘image’ is framed extremely widely and means the name of the person and includes:

“…the voice, signature, likeness, appearance, silhouette, feature, face, expressions (verbal or facial), gestures, mannerisms, and any other distinctive characteristic or personal attribute of a personage, or…

…any photograph, illustration, image, picture, moving image or electronic of other representation (‘picture’) of a personage and of no other person …”

Usually, celebrities are concerned with two aspects of image rights that are consequential:
1. Exploitation through sale, transfer or licensing; and
2. Protection through possible registration and infringement proceedings.

The registration one’s legal property in an image right aids both the economic exploitation and its protection. Traditionally, copyright and trademark legislation has been called upon by celebrities to attempt to carry out this function. These tools are purpose-specific and in the long run limited in their application. In contrast, the Guernsey law is simple, cost-effective and wide-ranging in application.

This the law is founded on issues of economic benefit, not privacy. However, there may be certain circumstances where it could be of use to a privacy cause of action. The question to ask oneself is what price do you put on your own personality? In a digital age, personality matters and the Guernsey register provides the best possible protection currently available. By crafting this law, Guernsey has provided order to an area of law previously lacking effective legislation; and consequently, the world is better place.

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2 comments

  1. Interesting info and question. Does copy right correlate to any of this? It seems celebrities’ heirs in the USA own rights to songs and books after death but this sounds more inclusive.

    • Copyright sits next to this new right. They complement each other. As for celebrity rights in the US, some states have well defined rights (CA, NY, IN, TN). Some states allow the heirs to inherit these rights (CA, IN). Other states say that all rights die with the celebrity (NY). This is a very unpredictable area of law. I advocate for a uniform federal law and registry similar to the one in Guernsey.

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