Models Sue for “use of persona”


Five US models sued and two individuals for the use of their photographs (use of persona) for escort services, and on pornographic websites. These models had allegedly signed 6-month contracts for modelling services, and were shocked to find their photographs on unwelcome websites. The suit alleges fraud, misrepresentation, unauthorized use of photographs (use of persona), breach of reputation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.


Though rarely pursued, such issues are very common in the Indian context as well. More often than not, we see photographs and persona of models being posted on obscene websites, and used to endorse unwelcome products. While the IT Act and Copyright Law provide certain remedies for such use, the existence of a valid contract transferring rights and permitting unlimited uses, throws open a few challenges.


For example, if an aspiring model signs a contract transferring all rights in her photographs to a portfolio or talent management website, can he/she, on attaining celebrity status, prevent the use of the said photographs? More often than not, these contracts include clauses permitting use of the photographs in any manner, for any purpose. Keeping other legal aspects aside, courts have clearly held that transfer of copyrights in a photograph (use of persona) does not permit the transferee to use the photograph for endorsement purposes.


Simply put, if rights in a photograph (use of persona) are transferred, a website can sell the photograph, but cannot permit its use in a company’s brochure, or for endorsing a product/service. How and where would you draw the line? The decision must be made on a case by case basis, based on the nature of use, and like several aspects of entertainment law, it is not straightforward.


Reference: Here

Image Source/Attribution: here (This image is in public domain)