On May 10, 2014, London media law firm Harbottle & Lewis hosted the first meeting of the London chapter that featured a live panel discussion. The topic was a comparison of rights of publicity law in both jurisdictions. Harbottle’s John Kelly spoke about English law, and RIAG’S Alexander Rufus-Isaacs spoke about US law.

Shortly before the panel, the UK papers had reported an incident when a hairdresser in West London had placed a photograph of a disheveled-looking Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in its window, with the legend: “Having a bad hair day? Pop in for a cut!” Not seeing the humor in this, 2 officials from the North Korean embassy visited the hairdresser and told him to take down the photograph. He sent them packing using a colorful version of “This is England, mate, not North Korea.” This proved to be a good illustration of the differences in the 2 legal systems. Had this occurred in California, a court would probably find that the Dear Leader’s likeness had been knowingly used for commercial purposes without his permission, and if he could make a decent showing of damages, he would probably prevail under common law misappropriation of likeness and Civ. Code §3344, and recover damages and attorney’s fees. However under English law, he has no rights to this own image and could only win if he could establish “passing off,” a common law tort based on consumer confusion, similar to the Lanham Act, which in all likelihood he would be unable to do.

Many other topics were discussed, including the recent European ruling against Google on Max Mosely’s action seeking the “right to be forgotten,” the post mortem right of publicity statute in California (no equivalent in England), First Amendment defenses in the USA vs the “newsworthiness” test in England, and identifiability. This was followed by a spirited question and answer session with the audience consisting of around 30 media lawyers, mostly from the UK, but some from the USA, Europe and Australia. The evening finished with an enthusiastic assault on Harbottle’s venerated wine cellar.

Alexander Rufus-Isaacs


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