DELHI HIGH COURT PROTECTS PERSONALITY RIGHTS OF THE LEGENDARY HINDI FILM ACTOR “AMITABH BACHCHAN”
In the sphere of intellectual property jurisprudence, publicity rights have gained significant prominence over the last few years. These rights, sometimes referred to as celebrity rights, are rights connected to an individual’s personality. They can be characterised as a person's ability to regulate how their identity is used for commercial purposes. An enormous amount of money and value are invested on a celebrity's public image. Hence, it becomes crucial for such a person to defend his/her personality right to prevent others from violating or profiting illegally from it.
Recently, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court vide order dated November 25, 2022 granted protection to the famous and legendary Hindi film actor Amitabh Bachchan in the matter titled as Amitabh Bachchan vs. Rajat Nagi & Ors. in a suit alleging violation of his ‘publicity rights as a celebrity’ as also recognised by the court earlier in the matter titled as Titan Industries Ltd. vs. Ramkumar Jewellers.
Brief facts and Decision
The aforesaid injunction order has been passed in the suit filed by the popular Hindi Film Actor, Amitabh Bachchan (“the Plaintiff”), who claimed to be aggrieved by the Defendants unauthorized use of his celebrity status to promote their own goods and services, without his permission or authorization. Details with respect to the violations were explained in the suit at length. The Actor also claimed violation of his ‘publicity rights as a celebrity’.
The Hon’ble Court opined that it can not seriously be disputed that the Plaintiff is a well-known personality and is also represented in various advertisements. The Hon’ble Court was also of the opinion that the Defendants appear to be using actor’s celebrity status for promoting their own activities, without his authorization or permission. The Plaintiff is, therefore, likely to suffer grave irreparable harm and injury of his reputation. In fact, some of the activities complained of may also bring disrepute to him. Thus, the Court held that the Plaintiff has been able to establish all three essential factors i.e., prima facie case, balance of convenience and irreparable harm and injury, for grant of an ex-parte injunction order against the Defendants and in favour of the Plaintiff.
In addition to passing an ex-parte injunction order against the Defendants, the Hon’ble Court also issued directions to the necessary statutory authorities as also to the Telecom Service Providers.
Personality Rights in India
To understand the concept of publicity and personality rights, it is important to understand who a celebrity is. The Delhi High Court was faced with this question in the case of Titan Industries vs. Ramkumar Jewellers, also involving Amitabh Bachchan and his wife, Mrs. Jaya Bachchan, who is also an acclaimed and well-known Hindi film actress. The Court defined celebrity as “a famous or a well-known person and is merely a person who “many” people talk about or know about”. The Court further laid down that the right to publicity is the right to control the commercial use of the human identity. The Court in the aforesaid case restrained the Defendants from misappropriating the personality rights of the celebrities Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Mrs. Jaya Bachchan by using their photographs as promotional content without their explicit consent or in any other manner whatsoever.
In another interesting case, DM Entertainment vs. Baby Gift House, the Court proceeded to injunct the Defendants from selling lookalike dolls of a popular singer, Daler Mehndi, which played a sound recording of the artist’s songs. The Court held that the right to publicity derives from the individual's ability to regulate the commercial use of his/her identity.
In the case titled as Shivaji Rao Gaikwad vs. Varsha Productions, the Hon’ble Madras High Court protected the exploitation of personality rights of another famous and extremely popular actor Rajnikant, by restraining the Defendant from using his name and style in a film titled “Main Hoon Rajnikanth”. The Hon’ble Court concluded that the movie was defamatory in nature and directed without the actor's consent. The Hon’ble Court also made a reference to Article 21 of the Constitution of India to opine that everyone has a right to live with dignity, hence it would be illegal to harm someone’s reputation or personality.
While the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) lays down that no advertisement should contain unauthorized references to any person, there are no explicit statutory provisions that regulate or deal with the concept of protection of personality and image rights in India thereby compelling the celebrities to approach the courts for intervention.
Even though India does not have any explicit law dealing with the issue of publicity and personality rights, the Indian judiciary has been active in protecting the rights of celebrities from time to time. Judicial pronouncements such as the present case have the potential to lay down a framework for a legislation in the future which mandates a robust system for protection of personality and image rights of celebrities in India.
 CS (COMM) 819/2022.  2012 SCC OnLine Del 2382.  2012 SCC OnLine Del 2382.  CS (OS) 893/2002.  2015 (62) PTC 351 (Madras).  Chapter 1, The Code for Self-Regulation of Advertising Content in India, https://ascionline.in/images/pdf/code_book.pdf.