Image rights in the UK v other jurisdictions

In the UK there is no ‘image right’ or ‘character right’ which allows an individual to control the use of his or her name or image. There are, however, a number of other laws such as defamation, and passing off which have in recent years allowed individuals and celebrities to protect their own image.


When comparing the UK with other legislative systems across the globe, it leaves the question as to why we do not have dedicated image rights or some other form of protection that is of equivalence such as ‘personality rights’ or ‘publicity rights’ which are provided in the USA.


Arguably, the most relevant piece of legislation pertaining to the UK is the ‘Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance 2012’ where the introduction of an ‘Image Rights Register’ has seen the jurisdiction move away from the legal position in the UK. The Register has created an innovative, free standing form of intellectual property in which registrable personality and image rights are now protected by statute.


With considerations of Europe, there is evidently a wide scope of protection highlighted in relation to one’s image. For example, in neighbouring country France, each individual, high profile or not, has the exclusive right to their own image. This protection goes as far as providing protection for those photos that are published and even the taking of the photo itself. This adopted approach is known as ‘Driot d’image’ (the right to your own image) which explicitly provides rights for image protection, provided by article 9 of the French Civil Code. In Sarkozy v Ryanair, Mr. Sarkozy and Ms. Burni successfully sued Ryanair in the French courts for the use of Ms. Burni’s image on a Ryanair advertisement without her consent. Similarly in Cantona v Foot Edition, footballer Eric Cantona successfully sued publishing company Foot Edition and obtained substantial damages for unauthorized commercial exploitation of his name and image in a special number of the magazine.


In Germany, Articles 1 and 2 of the constitution protect image rights. Oliver Khan, the German national team goalkeeper, successfully sued Electronic Arts, the electronic games manufacturer, for using his image and name in an official FIFA computer football game.

Similar protections in Europe can also be identified in Hungary where the right to one’s image is governed by the Civil code. In accordance to act 530 of the code, the taking of a picture or the publication of an individual image requires consent. Moreover, the protection of one’s image and other personality rights is also provided in Slovakia and is regulated by article 13 of the Slovakian Civil Code.

These above countries have evidenced the pro-activity to adopt and expand the application of their own jurisdictions pertaining to image rights. Whether these are adopted as an Image Right in Guernsey or through the interpretation of Publicity Rights in America, it is evident that these countries are addressing the need to adapt their legislation to give rise to the extent of protection provided for one’s image. English image-right law on the contrary provides for very little protection. The closest protection lies in the action of passing off however, the prospects of success could be limited.

If you have any questions relating to this article or have recently discovered someone using your image without your authorisation, contact Lawdit Solicitors today.

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