Japan court rules on using stars' images

TOKYO - The Supreme Court on Thursday handed down the nation's first ruling on publicity rights, saying celebrities' names and photos are protected under publicity rights, but rejecting a compensation demand by the plaintiffs in the case, singing duo Pink Lady.

Presiding Justice Ryuko Sakurai said in the ruling: "Celebrities' names and images can help sales by attracting potential customers. They are protected under publicity rights."

By clarifying the status of publicity rights and providing a guideline on what constitutes a violation, the ruling will likely be seen as a wake-up call on using celebrities' names or images in publications and on the Internet without permission.

Pink Lady had demanded that Kobunsha Co. pay them compensation of 3.72 million yen (S$60,900), saying the use of their photos without their agreement in a magazine published by the company infringed on their publicity rights.

Though the top court admits the existence of publicity rights, the ruling upheld two lower court rulings that also turned down the singers' demand, saying the case did not constitute infringement of their publicity rights.

The two alleged that the Feb 27, 2007, issue of "Josei Jishin" carried 14 photos of the duo, taken by the company in the past, in an article promoting a diet.

The plaintiffs insisted they were effectively commercial-use pictures, and the publisher aimed to profit by attracting fans of Pink Lady.

Although the court determined that photos are protected, in this case the ruling said, "In some cases, celebrities have to tolerate that their images may be used in certain situations such as news reports, news stories and others' creative products."

The ruling presented the guideline that an infringement of publicity rights occurs if photos themselves are sold or if they are mainly used for attracting customers.

The ruling said the case did not fulfill these conditions and thus the use of the photos did not infringe on the publicity rights of Pink Lady.