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Bollywood Music Awards and Personality Rights: Sonu Nigam v. Mika Singh and Ors.


SonuIn a rare instance of litigation based on personality rights, the Bombay High Court, on 26th April, 2014 granted an injunction in favour of  singer Sonu Nigam, restraining the singer Mika Singh and the recording label OCP Music from publishing an advertisement that impinged on Sonu’s personality, image and civil rights.

The dispute was regarding the publicity of the Mirchi Music awards. The defendants had put up billboards and hoardings containing Sonu Nigam’s image advertising the awards ceremony, without Sonu’s consent. These hoardings were different from the official hoardings put up by Mirchi Music Awards itself. The official hoardings had also contained pictures of Sonu, but Mirchi Music Awards had obtained Sonu’s permission.

Sonu therefore filed a suit in the Bombay High Court for unauthorised infringement of his personality rights. The plaintiffs also pleaded that the posters, having shown Mika to be ‘larger in stature’ than Sonu and other singers, were defamatory to Sonu Nigam. The order of the Bombay High Court only took cognizance of the argument based on personality rights, and restrained the defendants from publishing, displaying or reproducing the advertisement through hoardings and also  through Mika’s account on Twitter.

Personality Rights are a mixture of privacy and publicity rights- they give persons the sole right to commercially exploit their personality.  Previously, SpicyIP has blogged about Steve Irwin’s widow sending a legal notice against Kerala Wildlife Department because it used Steve’s name for a crocodile park, Amitabh Bachhan’s displeasure at his voice being used to advertise gutka, and Daler Mehndi suing a toy store for selling miniature Daler Mehndi toys without his permission. All of these were instances of infringement of personality rights. Clearly, personality rights encompass all aspects of one’s personality, from name to voice. While Indian jurisprudence is still nascent at this stage, it will be interesting to observe how the law will evolve in an age where it becomes easier every day to disseminate information in various forms.

The final order is available here. What is unique about this order is that along with an injunction, the High Court has also asked the defendants to pay damages to the tune of Rs.10 Lakhs. In a heartening gesture, Sonu Nigam has requested that the sum of damages be donated to charity, and the Order lists ten charitable organisations to which the defendant shall pay the sum.

[Additional sources: TOI Report, legalera.in]

Spadika Jayaraj

Spadika Jayaraj

Spadika is a student of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Apart from Intellectual Property Law, she is also interested in Law and Technology issues.

2 comments.

  1. AvatarL. Gopika

    ICC Development International v. Arvee Enterprises: 2003 (26) PTC 245 Del is another case that recognized personality rights for individuals in India. The Court held: “The right of publicity has evolved from the right of privacy and can inhere only in an individual or in any indicia of an individual’s personality like his name, personality trait, signature, voice, etc. An individual may acquire the right of publicity by virtue of his association with an event, sport, movie, etc. However, that right
    does not inhere in the event in question, that made the individual famous, nor in the corporation that has brought about the organization of the event. Any effort to take away the right of publicity from the individuals, to the organiser {non-human entity} of the event would be violative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. No persona can be monopolised. The right of Publicity vests in an individual and he
    alone is entitled to profit from it. For example if any entity, was to use Kapil Dev or Sachin Tendulkar’s name/persona/indicia in connection with the ‘World Cup’ without their authorisation, they would have a valid and enforceable cause of action.”

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