There has been immense activity surrounding the jurisprudence of celebrity rights in India with numerous judicial pronouncements in recent years. As regards legislation, there is no statute in India that expressly recognises the publicity or personality rights of individuals; therefore, the aspect of inheritance of publicity rights of a deceased person is still not entirely settled.
In a recent development, the High Court of Delhi confirmed that the publicity rights of individuals are not inheritable and extinguished with the death of the individual/celebrity. In March 2021, the Plaintiff (sole survivor in Category 1 of Class 2 legal heirs of the deceased) approached the Court seeking an injunction against the defendant from using Sushant Singh Rajput’s (SSR, a popular film actor in India who died a couple of years ago under mysterious circumstances) name, caricature, lifestyle or likeness in any of the projects or films (including ‘Nyay: The Justice’) which was being produced by the Defendants. Plaintiff contended that his consent was required before using SSR’s personality traits.
The Court watched the entire film and concluded that it is a re-enactment of SSR’s life based on publicly available news reports and observed that there was hardly any inventive input by the defendants in the creation of the film. The Court further observed that SSR’s personality rights weren’t violated since the publicly available news reports were not refuted or challenged at the time of their publication. The Court also observed that even if it is assumed that the film violated SSR’s publicity rights, ‘such rights were personal to SSR and died upon his demise’ and observed that other rights such as the right to privacy, personality rights, etc., vested in SSR (and were not heritable).
This judicial pronouncement has further cemented the legal position in India as regards the non-recognition of inheritance of publicity rights (and extinguishment of the same upon the demise of the individual/celebrity).