Colorado residents may be aware that athletes and entertainers often protect logos and other images that identify their brands with trademarks, but they may not be aware that their names, signatures, voices and catchphrases could also be protected intellectual property. Image rights have been the subject of intense media coverage in recent years in various parts of the world, and celebrities and athletes including Sean Connery, Curtis Jackson, who is known by the stage name 50 Cent, Beyoncé and David Beckham have all taken steps to ensure that their images are protected.
Image rights can be worth significant sums. In 2014, the actress Katherine Heigl settled a lawsuit with a pharmacy chain that posted a photograph of her leaving one of its stores on social media. In Spain, soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been accused of failing to pay millions in taxes on income they earned from their image rights, and football manager Jose Mourinho’s appointment as Manchester United boss was almost derailed when it was learned that his former club Chelsea had registered his name and signature as trademarks.
While image rights can be extremely valuable, the laws protecting them are nebulous. Image rights are enshrined in the constitution in Germany, Spain and South Africa, and the island of Guernsey has established an image rights register. There is no federal law protecting image rights in the United States, but these rights may still be enforceable under tort law principles.
Attorneys with intellectual property experience may encourage famous individuals to monitor the use of their image rights carefully. This is a complex area of the law and litigating these issues could be a costly and protracted undertaking. Attorneys may suggest acting quickly and decisively when protected intellectual property is used without consent to resolve these matters quickly and deter further infringement.