Public figures should seek intellectual property rights

Public figures such as politicians and entertainers face a lot of scrutiny due to the nature of their work. Almost daily, news about public figures is reported in the dailies and in blogs.

Sometimes the nature of what is reported can be damaging to one’s reputation whether the information is true or false.

Other times people misuse the brand of a public figure to their own aantage without due regard to the person.

How then does a public figure deal with all these eventualities and how does he manage them?

Most times people choose to ignore what is out there in the public domain believing that after sometime people will forget the drama and move on to something else.

While it is not practical to control what the public will say about you, due regard must be given to information that is damaging and false allegations.

Due regard should also be given where a person has made much commercial gain from misuse of the public figure’s image, such as use of the public figure’s brand in a commercial or a movie.

An image rights lawyer specialises in protecting the image and brand of public figures and this includes safeguarding their personality rights, image rights and pursuing defamation cases.

The right to publicity (or personality rights) allows a public figure (whether a natural person or a corporate entity) to control use of your name and other aspects of their identity and persona.

Many public figures such as entertainers have spent years building a unique brand and therefore this right is available to them. A comedian, for example, who has managed to build a unique personality has access to this right if a third party infringes or threatens to infringe on his brand.

In the US personality rights have been classified as property rights as opposed to personal rights. In Kenya personality rights take a dual nature of being both property and personal rights.

If the comedian takes out a trademark over his stage name and also protects his works and performances by use of copyright then he is entitled to intellectual property rights. Some of these rights pass on to his estate even after death.

On the other hand in the event an entertainer is defamed and something false is published about him, he they can sue under the tort of defamation.

Common examples of how personality rights can be abused include someone gaining commercially out of riding on your good will. A lot of entertainers face this problem, which can be avoided if they employ use of intellectual property tools such as trademarks and copyrights. Otherwise they will have no case against the infringer.

When going through the Intellectual Property Journal published by the Kenya Industrial Property Institute, I was happy to find that a number of entertainers have registered their brands.

I would aise more public figures to seek out intellectual property rights depending on whether or not they qualify for the same.

Mputhia is the founder of C M Aocates. cmputhia@cmputhiaocates.co.ke