Publicity rights on the fame of famous subjects in China and the USA

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Publicity rights on the fame of famous subjects in China and the USA

In our current developing world, there are probably as many celebrities as the stars in the sky. They also have a similar resemblance too. Normally, a celebrity will shine for some moment in the night but eventually, they will fade. However, it’s not about the famous duration of celebrities that is the matter but it is another aspect revolving around their fame – the publicity rights. So, what are the publicity rights on the fame of famous subjects?

As we can see in the recent Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard case in the USA, there is a wave of discontent towards Disney arose, mainly due to the fact that Disney doesn’t sign a contract with Depp on the 6th Pirates of the Caribbean movie but still uses his figure to promote commercial items. 

The fans of Depp are angry cause they think that Mr. Depp’s image is attached to the Jack Sparrow character. Therefore, if Disney has refused to cooperate with Mr. Depp, they should also limit the selling of Jack Sparrow’s toys, etc.

Although the analysis of who is right or wrong on the matters of rights over the character is still left to debate, however, there is another aspect that has caught the eyes of the public – the publicity right.  

Left apart from the character that the actor plays in the game/movie, the actor’s own self-image is also a valuable asset. 

The actor, celebrity, also known as a famous subject will have the right to make a fortune from their name, or brand name with their name, image, or likeness in addition to the earnings from their profession.

The right to protect these assets is well known as publicity right, or the right of publicity, personality right.

Celebrities and in many countries, even civilians, all have publicity rights. This means that a person will have the exclusive right to use their name, image, likeness, or other traits of identity for commercial purposes.

If someone uses the name or image of them against their will, they may take legal actions against the infringers. 

Publicity rights of celebrities

Celebrities are even advised to register their own name and brand as a trademark to secure protection even more and have more claims in the court. 

If a companies want to use the name of a celebrity attached to their brand, they will need to request authorization and normally, they would have to pay for such authorization. 

However, it should be noted that currently, most infringing cases only got big if they involve commercial benefits.

Therefore, if the personality traits are used for news, information, or public interest purposes, it will not usually be regarded as a violation of publicity rights.

The publicity rights are still not worldwide recognized, meaning that in the USA and China, the definition and enforcement of publicity rights may be different. 

For some states in the USA, the right of publicity is even inheritable or assignable.

Linda Zhao, a partner at GoldenGate Lawyers in Beijing has explained clearly the matter of different understanding and rules of publicity rights in the world: “In China publicity right is not a certain statutory right in any enacted laws or judicial precedent. However, this does not mean there is no protection of publicity right in China. In fact, you will find that different aspects of publicity rights are primarily covered in separate clauses under Civil Code, including an individual’s name such as alias, stage name, short name, pen name, image, likeness, and sound. Other laws may involve publicity right as well, such as trademark law, which prohibits bad faith registration of celebrities’ names. For example, Michael Jordan successfully enforced his name being registered and used as a trademark.”

***Other Articles***

– You could see How To Register Trademark in China here.

– You could visit here to see Procedure of Trademark in China.

– You could visit here to check Required documents of filing trademark in China.

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