Understanding Image Rights in Intellectual Property

Understanding Image Rights in Intellectual Property

We have previously touched upon the topic of image rights in our article about Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, a case in which the Argentinian forward was unable to sign with potential club Tottenham Hotspur due to a longstanding image rights dispute. Read more here.

What are Image Rights?

Image rights are defined as the rights owned by the individual with regards to their persona, personality or personal brand. This may include their name, image, likeness, photo, signature, slogan, logo, film, audio, video, recording, voice or any other identity relating to the individual. According to WIPO, image rights pertain the following:

Access to the services of the personality for the purpose of filming, television (both live and recorded), broadcasting (both live and recorded), audio recording; motion pictures, video and electronic pictures (including but not limited to the production of computer-generated images; still photographs; personal appearances; product endorsement and advertising in all media; as well as the right to use the personality’s name, likeness, autograph, story and accomplishments (including copyright and other intellectual property rights), for promotional or commercial purposes including, but without limitation, the personality’s actual or simulated likeness, voice, photograph, performances, personal characteristics and other personal identification.

Ian Blackshaw, Understanding Sports Image Rights, WIPO

Image rights of the individual becomes an exclusive right to be legally protected according to each country’s legislation. The individual or the representative company will be able to protect, license or assign the image rights once registered, just like regular trademarks.

Differing countries recognise image rights under different names. The term image rights is used in the United Kingdom, however in Europe it is known as personality rights, and in the United States as publicity rights.

How are Image Rights legally protected?

The law in dealing with image rights are not clearly defined. There is yet to be a coherent agreement between countries or continents to a shared set of image rights laws. Some countries have made significant progress in image rights laws, such as Guernsey, one of UK Channel Islands. In 2012, Guernsey implemented the world’s first image rights registry, meaning Guernsey legislation has systemised image rights into a fully functioning form enabled through registration.

However, there are several ways for an individual to register their image rights under the law. This is done via the traditional avenues of Intellectual Property, such as trademark, industrial design and copyright.

To protect names, brands or logos under image rights, the individual may choose to register them under trademarks. To protect photos, images, film, videos, audio or illustrations, one may choose to protect these under copyright. To protect creations, the individual may prefer to register them under industrial designs.

There is also passing off, which prevents the misuse of one’s image or reputation by a third party. The individual must prove that:

  • There is significant reputation tied to the image of the individual;
  • The public has been misled into maintain the opinion that a good has been endorsed by the individual due to unauthorised use of an aspect of the individual’s image;
  • There is harm done to the individual’s reputation.

Although registering one’s image rights can be complicated and laborious due to multiple registrations under differing IPs, image rights are a valuable asset that ought to be protected and when properly managed, can be monetized to the benefit of the individual. It is up to the individual to weigh up the benefits of obtaining exclusive rights to their image to the intricate process of image rights registration.

Image Rights in Malaysia

As of 2021, image rights in Malaysia are yet to be defined or recognised. However, several aspects of image rights, such as inventiveness and creation, may be protected under certain areas of intellectual property. For example, celebrities or personalities may choose to trademark their name or stage name in order to commercialise or protect their image rights.

Image rights are undoubtedly important for relevant figures to capitalise on their worth and to take proper control of one’s image. Therefore, image rights ought to be properly established, protected and registered with the correct legislation for the relevant individuals to manage their reputation and increase their income.


Image Rights, WIPO (link)

Can You Protect Your Image Like a Brand, WIPO (link)

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