Does Guernsey Really Want To Become Famous -- And Ostracized -- For Introducing Image Rights?
from the unintended-consequences dept
Just as the original term of copyright has been constantly extended from the original 14 years in the Statute of Anne, so the the scope of intellectual monopolies has been widened by the introduction of new ways in which people assert ownership of abstractions. Here's the latest idea: a right to protect your image.
It comes from an unusual quarter: the island of Guernsey, officially "Bailiwick of Guernsey", one of a group of small islands off the northern coast of France. Despite its geographical location, it is not part of France, or of the UK, and it is not even a member of the European Union. This unique situation perhaps encourages it to try out novel ideas like the proposed law, claimed to be a world first:
Image rights (or the 'right of publicity') are generally recognised as the right to control the commercial use of a person's identity and images associated with that person including distinctive expressions, characteristics or attributes.
That last paragraph underlines one of the key problems with image rights. Like the UK's infamous libel laws, such rights might enable the world's rich and powerful to censor stories that presented them in an unflattering light, by invoking their "image rights".
The importance and value of those rights have become an increasingly controversial topic, the latest instalment being the UK debate over the role of super injunctions as public figures seek to exercise significant control over the use of their image in the media.
The same article quoted above talks about how the "legislation will define the rights of an individual to protect their own image and balance those against the freedom of news reporting and the public interest." But a new law -- especially in completely uncharted areas as here -- is likely to require a number of detailed court cases to establish its contours. That's going to be expensive, and not something that news organizations can lightly undertake, to say nothing of lone bloggers, which gives those with deep pockets a powerful weapon against the media.
The Internet's global reach means that anything placed online could theoretically be viewed in Guernsey, and might therefore "infringe" on somebody's image rights there; this could presumably result in local courts applying financial sanctions. The question is, what happens next?
One response might be for most Web sites to attempt to block all access from Guernsey in order to avoid image infringements. That's likely to be imperfect, but it would be enough to cripple Guernsey's economy by cutting it off from huge swathes of the Net. Alternatively, other countries might pass legislation that forbids the enforcement of any awards based on image infringement, just as the US did to nullify libel tourism directed against its citizens.
Either way, it's hard to see much benefit to Guernsey from creating a new monopoly here. If it does, the island runs the risk that it will become isolated in a more modern, and ominous sense: cut off from the Net, and its legal decisions ignored by foreign courts. Neither would be very good for the island's own image as a modern forum for business.