‘Personality trademark’ rights have been invoked by mega stars Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth to protect their brand equity and restrain illegal use of their images and voices.

Now, Viacom18 Media, which owns Hindi general entertainment channel Colors, is using it to protect Guthi, a character popularised by its show Comedy Nights with Kapil.

And that has complicated the plans of Sunil Grover, the actor who essayed Guthi’s character. The channel issued a public notice after it emerged that Grover, who has quit the Comedy Nights… show, was planning to essay his role on a rival programme, to be called ‘The Guthi Show’.

Lawyers and industry experts say that this development may mark the beginning of a new trend: registering personality trademarks.

Other personalities who have trademarked their brands in the past include author Shiv Khera and cricketer Harbhajan Singh.

Grover’s character Guthi had become popular, resulting in higher viewership for the channel. The actor reportedly ran into a tiff with the producers over financial compensation. Grover had tweeted: “I am an entertainer. This stage or that stage, this character or that. My goal is to entertain even if mediums change…”

The show has been created for the channel by comedian Kapil Sharma’s production house, K9 Productions.

Litigation threat

According to the legal notice issued by Viacom18 Media, the company has “sole, exclusive, absolute and unlimited” ownership rights on the intellectual property rights of the artiste (not named) associated with the programme and any adaptations of the character and all the versions of the programme, including the character ‘Guthi’, or mannerism and characteristic features of Guthi or any other characters played by the artist in the programme. Viacom said that it would initiate legal proceedings against any entity infringing on the rights of the programme Comedy Nights with Kapil.

Different takes

Safir Anand, Senior Partner, Anand and Anand, said: “If someone is using the brand icon’s image without permission, then it is tantamount to infringement of right of publicity.

“In this case, the character was a scripted character and, therefore, is the intellectual property right of the brand owner. Guthi is a created character, similar to James Bond or Spider-man”.

However, Anuradha Salhotra, Partner, Lall Lahiri & Salhotra, has a different take. She believes that if the mannerisms of the character were created by the actor, then they belong to the actor. But if they were scripted or created, then they became a piece of literary or dramatic work and hence the copyright would rest with the owner of the brand.

bindu.menon@thehindu.co.in

meenakshi.v@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 20, 2013)
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