The pictures of notorious people may be used on commercial websites without their consent (or, at least, this is what the court of Bologna said)

In 1992, for the first time in more than 141 years of America’s Cup, an Italian boat was able to dispute the famous sailing race, so becoming famous all over the world as the first boat from a non-English speaking team to fight for the victory. Not only the most passionate sailors know that the boat was “Il Moro di Venezia”, Paul Cayard its skipper and that the sailing team was leaded by Raul Gardini.

This story was re-evoked in a proceeding for violation of image and personality rights started by Paul Cayard and the heirs of Raul Gardini before the Court of Bologna (full text here) to stop the unauthorized use of pictures, names and logos of Il Moro di Venezia and its protagonists on a commercial website (and related promotional Facebook pages) managed by a brand called “Il Moro di Venezia” that was unrelated to the sailing team of the famous boat.

According to the Court, however, the personality rights of an individual, that include the ways in which such individual is presented to the public, shall reflect the social perception that common people have of his/her personality and is not violated insofar as there is no misinterpretation of his/her intellectual ideological, ethic and professional heritage, as it emerges from his/her personal story as known.

Moreover, with particular reference to the names and images of Il Moro di Venezia and its team that were used on the website, the Court affirmed that the plaintiff had no right to stop their use on the basis that the contested elements were not used as trademarks and the link created with them on the resistants’ web pages was not abusive or detrimental of other rights.

The Court seems to recall the case law affirming that, besides misrepresentation, there is a further case when there could be violation of personality rights. Reference is made to the cases where the image and name of an individual are used in advertising in association with a brand, in so far as their use suggests a patronage to the brand which, instead, is lacking. A parallelism with trademark law could be found in the provisions inhibiting to deceive the public about the qualities of a sign and to create in the consumers’ mind an association between a notorious trademark and a product, thus taking an unfair advantage of said trademark.

This further case was, however, excluded by the Court of Bologna. It thus seems, by reading this decision, that anyone can make use of the names and images of third parties, also on a website aimed at promoting their commercial activity, when such person is depicted as the society expects him/her to be, suggesting a support of the related brand. This, even if a link between such person and the activity is created in the public in absence of any will from the depicted one or, as it was in the present case, with his/her express disapproval.

Many decision, on the contrary, affirmed that any individual has the right to control the uses of his/her name, image and any other aspect of his identity, even if the same were made available to the public with their previous consent, because the interested party could not approve their further use and, in particular, a commercial connection suggesting that he/she is connected to a brand (see Supreme Court decision of 6 December 2013, no. 27381; Court of Milan, decision of 21 May 2002 and Court of Rome, decision of 15 September 2007).

It’s a bit scary thinking about the consequence of the decision of the Court of Bologna that seems to be very permissive as to the possible uses of names and pictures of a person. It would be reasonable, we believe, extending the concept of distortive use as including the use on a commercial website that has not been approved by the person in question or, even worst, is expressively discouraged.

Court of Bologna, decision No. 2637/2015, 9 September 2015, Ivan Gardini, Eleonora Gardini, Maria Speranza Gardini and Paul Pierre Cayard v. Punta della Maestra S.r.l., Overseas Property LLC, Yacht Club Il Moro di Venezia and Rama S.n.c.

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