Right of Publicity 2015
Uhthoff, Gómez Vega & Uhthoff, SC.
Contributing editor Jonathan D Reichman Kenyon & Kenyon LLP
Sources of law
1 Is the right of publicity recognised?
Publicity, the right or ability to be or not to be public, is recognised in article 16 of the Mexican Federal Constitution in terms of the interpretation of the fundamental right of privacy, and as a limitation to the freedom of speech and expression right foreseen in articles 6 and 7. In this context, anyone in Mexico has the ability to decide to be publicly known or not, and the right to sue for indemnification against those people who have unlawfully affected privacy rights of others by communicating their image in public media.
The name and signature of an individual can be a trade or service mark, and it is possible to obtain its registration before the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property to obtain the right for its exclusive use to distinguish products or services in Mexican commerce.
The protection of the portrait of an individual, the right to authorise its use by others and the infringement cause if it is used without proper authorisation are foreseen by the Federal Copyright Law.
Article 1916 of the Federal Civil Code foresees the concept of moral damage as an injury or harm a person suffers in feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honour, reputation, private life, physical or public perception. The remedy for a moral damage consists of an economic indemnification, which a civil judge in charge of the case will determine by assessing the degree of damage caused to the injured party. Apart from the economic compensa- tion, the affected party can request the judge to order the liable person to publish an extract of the final resolution declaring the existence of the moral damage. This publication must be made through the same media and to the same extent as that used by the liable party to cause the moral damage. In the case of Mexico City, a relevant local law entered into force in 2006: the Law on Civil Liability for the Protection of Private Life, Honour and Self- Image (the LCLP). The LCLP abolishes the provisions regarding publicity, image protection and moral damage that were formerly included in the local Civil and Criminal Codes, introduces the concept of moral patrimony as the intangible personality assets of an individual, and provides protection and causes of action when the right of publicity of individuals is infringed.
2 What are the principal legal sources for the right of publicity?
At a federal level, the principal legal sources for the right of publicity are:
- the Federal Constitution;
- the Federal Civil Code;
- the Industrial Property Law; and
- the Federal Copyright Law.
At a local level, and applicable only to matters taking place in Mexico City, the LCLP is the principal legal source for the right of publicity.
3 How is the right enforced? Which courts have jurisdiction?
The right is enforced through a civil action to obtain indemnification for an infringement of the right of publicity. At a federal level, the federal civil judges have jurisdiction to settle these matters. In the case of the appli- cation of the LCLP, the competent courts will be the local civil judges of Mexico City.
Concerning an infringement of rights of the portrait of an individual, the competent authority to settle this matter will be the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property. To exercise a civil action to obtain an indemnifica- tion for an infringement of portrait rights, a final resolution by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property declaring the existence of the infringement will be required.
4 Is the right recognised per se, or by reference to other laws?
The right is recognised as a constitutional right, but it is enforced by refer- ence to other laws.
Existence of right
5 Who has or is entitled to the right of publicity?
It may seem that publicity and image rights are exclusive to individuals, since these rights are mostly in line with the use of the name, likeness and signature of an individual. However, a company will also have the right of publicity in terms of the entitlement to authorise or take commercial advantage through a public disclosure of its name and associated images of its premises, trademarks or products, and to oppose to such disclosure and sue for indemnification when someone affects its reputation. In view of this, companies are also entitled to hold the right of publicity and to enforce such right when it has been infringed.
The exercise of the right of publicity and image rights of a company takes place:
- when it allows its name or its perception as a legal entity, through images displaying its trademarks, premises, products or the form in which services are rendered by it, to be publicly disclosed in any media, whether by performing advertising activities or not; and
- when it enforces rights arguing the existence of a moral damage when a public expression of ideas harms its goodwill or public perception.
Concerning this subject, there are some relevant judicial precedents in which federal circuit courts have ruled that companies have rights to claim moral damages when they suffer a harm or injury in their reputation and goodwill through a public expression that was unlawfully issued. These precedents do not constitute formal jurisprudence to be compulsorily followed by other courts to settle similar matters. However, they reflect a relevant court opinion to be taken into account in considering provisions regarding moral damages that are applicable to companies.
6 Do individuals need to commercialise their identity to have a protectable right of publicity?
No; commercialisation is not a requisite for enforcing the right of publicity.
7 Can a foreign citizen have a protectable right of publicity?
Yes; a foreign citizen has protectable right of publicity in Mexico.
8 What is protected under the right of publicity?
Mainly name and portrait; however, self-image and reputation are also protected under the right of publicity.
9 Is registration or public notice required for protection of the right? If so, what is the procedure and what are the fees for registration or public notice?
Registration is not required for protection of the right of publicity, although in certain circumstances, such as enforcing trademark rights, registration of the name, portrait or signature as a mark before the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property will be required if the action is to be supported on the existence of a trade or service mark registration.
A public notice is not required for protection of the right of publicity in Mexico.
10 Does the existence, or the extent, of the right depend on where the individual lives or has lived?
Yes; in Mexico, protection of the right of publicity will be enhanced if the individual lives in Mexico City, since in this case the LCLP will also be applicable separately from the protection provided by the federal statutes.
Ownership of right
11 Can the right be transferred? In what circumstances?
Regarding the portrait of an individual, the right of publicity can be transferred through agreement or, post-mortem, by will or by intestate succession.
The right to bring actions when the right of publicity has been infringed can also be transferred through agreement.
If the name or the signature of a person were protected through a trademark registration, the rights derived from the trademarks can also be transferred through an agreement or, post-mortem, by will or by intestate succession.
It is important to note that according to the LCLP, in the case of Mexico City, personality rights such as the image or likeness of a person are inalienable; in other words, it is not possible to transfer any of the personality rights.
12 Can the right be licensed? In what circumstances?
The portrait of an individual can be licensed, as can the name or signature of a person if they have been protected through trademarks.
The right owner may grant exclusive or non-exclusive licences for use of his or her portrait, name or signature.
13 If the right is sold or licensed, who may sue for infringement?
The assignee or the licensee shall, unless otherwise stipulated by an agree- ment, be empowered to sue for infringement of the corresponding right of publicity.
14 How long does protection of the right last?
As a general rule, the right of publicity lasts for the lifetime of the right owner; however, in the case of the use of the portrait of an individual, the right of publicity lasts for the lifetime of the right holder plus 50 years after his or her death.
15 Is the right protected after the individual’s death? For how long? Must the right have been exercised while the individual was alive?
The right of publicity over a portrait is protected for 50 years after the indi- vidual’s death.
In the case of marks, if the name or signature has been registered as a trade or service mark, rights can be renewed on a 10-year continuous basis, provided that the mark is in effective use in Mexico.
It is not necessary for the right of publicity to have been exercised while the individual was alive.
16 If post-mortem rights are recognised, who inherits the rights upon the individual’s death? How is this determined?
According to Mexican law, post-mortem rights are recognised regarding the portrait of an individual, and they are assigned to the heirs of the right owner designated in his or her will or by intestate succession.
17 Can the right be lost through the action or inaction of its owner?
No; the right of publicity is not lost through the action or inaction of its owner.
18 What steps can right owners take to ensure their right is fully protected?
The recommended course of action would be for the right owner to exer- cise actions to oppose any unauthorised use of his or her name, likeness, signature and portrait by people that do not have an express authorisation.
It is also recommendable that the name or signature of a celebrity be registered as a trademark before the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property or through the reservation of rights mechanism at the National Copyright Institute, to have additional elements to enforce rights against infringers.
19 What constitutes infringement of the right?
As a general rule, the right of publicity is violated when someone uses the name or portrait of another individual or the name of a company without having a proper authorisation to do so, either with commercial purposes or with the intention to affect the honour or reputation of the concerned individual or company.
20 Is an intent to violate the right necessary for a finding of infringement?
No. Even if the infringer has no direct intent to violate the right, if the con- duct per se infringes the individual’s right of publicity, the affected party will be entitled to exercise enforcement actions against the infringer.
21 Does secondary liability exist for the right? What actions incur such liability?
The direct infringer is personally liable for the violation of the right of pub- licity. For those cases when the infringement is caused by an officer or rep- resentative acting for a company, the company also becomes liable for the officer’s actions.
In order for an unauthorised use of the portrait or image of an indi- vidual to be considered an infringement of the right of publicity, it has to be done with an aim to make a direct or indirect profit; it is not relevant whether or not the profit is finally obtained.
22 What defences exist to an infringement claim?
The defences against an action to enforce the right of publicity concerning the use of portraits of individuals could be grounded on the following:
- implicit authorisation for portrait use due to economic compensation
– the acceptance of a monetary payment for a self-image photograph automatically implies the granting of the right to use the image for commercial purposes, without needing further authorisation;
- use of portrait of individuals in a crowd – an authorisation for the use of the portrait of an individual is not required when he or she forms part of a mass of people;
- pictures taken in public places for informative or journalistic purposes
– an authorisation is also not required when a picture of an individual is taken in a public place and it has an informative use;
- preclusion of the action to claim damages – as a general rule, an action to claim for damages for actions affecting the honour and reputation expires two years from the date the infringement took place; and
- on a local level, exceptions to the image right foreseen by the LCLP
- the image belongs to a ‘public figure’ on the understanding that, under this concept, a person acquires notoriety for his or her pro- fessional activities, or there is a continuous communication of happenings of his or her private life;
- the image belongs to a person having a public duty; or
- the image belongs to a person that has participated in happenings, events or ceremonies of public interest or that occur in public places.
23 What remedies are available to an owner of the right of publicity against an infringer? Are monetary damages available?
Monetary damages can be claimed on grounds of a right of publicity infringement.
For those cases affecting honour and reputation, it is also possible for the affected party to request the publication of an extract of the final resolu- tion declaring the existence of the infringement. The publication must be made through the same media and with the same diffusion as the publi- cation that carried the materials used by the infringing party to cause the harm.
The sum of moral damages is determined by the judge in view of the specific circumstances of the case and the proofs provided by the involved parties.
In the case of an unauthorised use of the portrait of an individual and by express provision in the Federal Copyright Law, damages cannot be less than 40 per cent of the sale price of the materials though which the infringement has been caused.
It is important to bear in mind that, in the case of unauthorised use of portraits, a final resolution by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property declaring the existence of the infringement is a requisite for claiming dam- ages through the exercise of the corresponding civil action.
In the case of the LCLP, the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed for infringements against moral patrimony is 350 days of the daily minimum wage applicable in Mexico City ( 59.82 pesos per day).
24 Is there a time limit for seeking remedies?
As a general rule, the action to claim monetary remedies precludes two years as of the date when the infringement took place. Initiation of judicial or administrative actions stops preclusion.
25 Are attorneys’ fees and costs available? In what circumstances?
The prevailing party is entitled to claim attorneys’ fees and costs of the proceedings. It is necessary to provide proof of these expenses, and the decision about the final sum to be awarded is left to the judge’s discretion.
26 Are punitive damages available? If so, under what conditions?
No; the Mexican legal system does not recognise punitive damages.
27 What significant judgments have recently been awarded for infringement of the right?
A relevant decision by the First Courtroom of the Supreme Court was issued on 21 May 2008 in case 1121/2007, establishing as a requisite for claiming damages before a civil court the previous final declaration of infringement by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property concerning an unauthorised use of the image of an individual. The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property is the competent authority to settle disputes regard- ing infringements of illegal use of portraits of individuals. This means that a party whose right of publicity has been infringed through the unauthorised use of his or her portrait cannot claim for damages before a civil court unless he or she has obtained a previous infringement declaration through a final decision issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property.
Although this court decision is a relevant precedent, it is not formal jurisprudence (a compulsory decision to be observed by all federal courts), as four other court decisions in the same sense are required to acquire this status.
28 In what forum are right of publicity infringement proceedings held?
If the action is related to the unauthorised use of the portrait of a person, according to the Federal Copyright Law, the claim must be filed before the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, which is the competent author- ity in this matter pertaining to the Executive Power, and therefore is not a judicial but an administrative authority.
If an infringement has been declared, the person whose rights have been infringed may file a judicial action seeking damages.
In the case of moral damages, a federal civil court is also competent to settle this matter.
In Mexico City, an individual whose moral patrimony (image) has been infringed may file a judicial action seeking moral damages before the local civil court.
29 Are disputed issues decided by a judge or a jury?
The jury system is not in use in Mexico. As mentioned above, the infringe- ment of the right of publicity is settled by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, by a federal civil court or, in the case of Mexico City, by a local civil court.
30 To what extent are courts willing to consider, or bound by, the opinions of other national or foreign courts that have handed down decisions in similar cases?
In the case of Mexican courts, they do not take into account opinions or decisions of foreign courts for similar cases.
It is compulsory to observe national court decisions only if they con- stitute jurisprudence. In Mexico, the term ‘jurisprudence’, apart from its meaning as the study of the philosophic principles of the law, also refers to the relevant decisions of certain courts complying with formal requisites that constitute a secondary source of law (the principal source of law is written statutory legislation), and it establishes the criteria to be followed by federal courts and judges to rule upon matters of the same nature.
Not all court decisions form jurisprudence. They must come from the Supreme Court of Mexico, the federal circuit courts, the Federal Court of Tax and Administrative Affairs or the Federal Electoral Tribunal.
As a general rule, for the Supreme Court or federal circuit courts, five final and continuous decisions in the same sense are required to form jurisprudence. In the case of the Federal Court of Tax and Administrative Affairs or the Federal Electoral Tribunal, three final and continuous deci- sions are required.
Jurisprudence does not operate automatically. Once the decisions in the same sense are in place, to be taken as formal legal criteria to be observed by other federal courts, they must be approved by the Supreme Court justices or by the judges of the other courts where they originate.
31 Is preliminary relief available? If so, what preliminary measures are available and under what conditions?
Preliminary injunctions are not foreseen in the Mexican legal system. However, it is possible to request the adoption of provisional measures ahead of an image or portrait infringement.
Depending on the level of the infringement, these measures can be the seizure of presumable infringing materials, which is the usual measure, the forced closure of the commercial establishment in which the infringement has allegedly been caused and arrest of individuals whose actions are allegedly been causing the infringement.
A bond to guarantee damages is a requisite for the adoption of provisional measures. a party whose right of publicity has been infringed through the unauthorised use of his or her portrait cannot claim for damages before a civil court unless he or she has obtained a previous infringement declaration through a final decision issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property.
32 What avenues of appeal are available in main proceedings or preliminary injunction proceedings? Under what conditions?
It is possible to challenge the adoption of provisional measures through the exercise of a juicio de amparo, which is a proceeding before federal judges or courts to analyse the legality or constitutionality of acts or decisions that originated from administrative or other judicial authorities.
Against a final resolution issued by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property declaring an infringement for an unauthorised use of the portrait of an individual, it is possible to exercise an administrative appeal before the same institute or a nullity petition before the Federal Court of Fiscal and Administrative Affairs (the CFAA). The decision of a nullity petition of the CFAA can be challenged before a federal circuit court through a juicio de amparo, which as indicated will only be reviewing legality or constitutionality issues of the decision.
For civil proceedings, the resolution of the first instance can be challenged before a superior court, and the decision of this court can be challenged before a Federal Circuit Court through the juicio de amparo.
33 What is the average cost and time frame for a first instance decision, for a preliminary injunction, and for appeal proceedings?
Costs for these proceedings are variable and contingent. A standard tariff or guideline applicable to all professionals in Mexico who handle these kinds of matters does not exist. Professional fees vary from firm to firm.
Each case will be examined in view of its complexity to determine the amount of fees and foreseeable expenses to be disbursed.
The average time for obtaining a first instance decision is approximately 18 months as of the date of filing the action. For obtaining a decision at the first level of appeal, the average time is a year, plus one additional year for obtaining a decision in the juicio de amparo proceeding.
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