Justice Navin Chawla of the High Court of Delhi granted an ad interim ex party injunction in favour of the well-known actor Amitabh Bachchan in the suit Amitabh Bachchan v. Rajat Nagi & Ors., CS(COMM) 819/2022. The suit was filed by the veteran actor to protect his rights against the use of his likeness, voice, and pictures for the fake Kaun Bang Crorepati lottery fraud and myriad of other scams that were infringing upon his rights and unauthorisedly using his voice and pictures to defraud members of the general public.

The counsel on behalf of Mr Bachchan alleged that the defendants were violating the famous actor’s ‘publicity rights as a celebrity’ which have been recognised earlier by the court in Titan Industries Ltd. v. M/s. Ramkumar Jewellers, 2012 SCC OnLine Del 2382. The present suit was instituted against defendants, inter alia one Rajat Nagi for allegedly operating websites and mobile applications that misappropriated the actor’s photographs and likeness. Another defendant, Rana Partab Singh has been alleged to circulate messages through the popular platform Whatsapp wherein the actor’s photograph was used to deceive members of the general public into believing that they had won the lottery on the popular television show Kaun Banega Crorepati (wherein the plaintiff is the host). Defendant no. 3 in the suit, Manoj Publications was allegedly commercially exploiting association with the actor to sell general knowledge books on popular e-commerce platforms. Defendant no. 4, Swag Shirts was alleged to be involved in the unauthorised sale of merchandise through the website that prominently bore the actor’s photographs on them. Defendant no. 5, Tamatina, has been alleged to be involved in the sale of wall posters that bore the actor’s photographs and likeness. Defendant no. 6, Raghu Sharma, is the registrant of the website www.amitabhbachchan.com, while defendant no. 7 was the registrar of the same. Defendant no. 8, Mahesh Patel is the registrant of the domain name www.amitabhbachchan.in and defendant no. 9 is the registrar of the same. The suit additionally sought to get a John Doe order for safeguarding the plaintiff’s rights against future instances of infringement. The intent behind the institution of the suit was to seek a permanent injunction against the defendants to restrain them from infringing the actor’s personality rights by using or misappropriating rights over his personality and publicity by use of his name (and all variations thereof, including Bachchan, BigB, AB), voice, image or any other attribute. The actor additionally sought damages amounting to the sum of INR 2,00,01,000 against the defendants which resulted in the loss of his reputation and goodwill. In their prayer, the plaintiff also sought a direction for the Department of Telecommunication and the Ministry of Information Technology to take down the URLs and websites that unauthorisedly use the actor’s publicity and personality rights in addition to blocking access to all phone numbers that were used by the defendants to circulate messages that were infringing and detrimental to his rights and reputation.

In light of the submissions made, the court stated that it cannot be seriously disputed that the plaintiff is a well-known personality. In light of the documents submitted by the plaintiff, the court opined that a prima facie case was made in favour of the plaintiff. Additionally, the court noted that the balance of convenience also was in favour of the plaintiff and against the defendants since the defendants appeared to be using the plaintiff’s status for their own commercial gains without obtaining the relevant authorisation or permission. The court was of the view that such acts were likely to result in suffering of grave irreparable harm and injury to the reputation of the plaintiff and granted the ad interim ex parte injunction. The court additionally directed the Ministry of Information Technology to ensure that the respective internet service providers take down the links and websites as provided by the plaintiff. The court further directed the Department of Telecommunication to ensure that the telecom service providers blocked access to the phone numbers being used by the defendants to share the infringing messages.

All of the technological advances seem bleak to a man who gets robbed of his own right to be himself when people unauthorisedly use his likeness for their own deceitful gains. The issue at hand gets bigger when the innocent public is swayed by the unauthorised association and is often made prey to a complicated scam. Therefore, the order comes as a relief to the plaintiff as well as the general public that could be rescued from falling for such traps. It is yet to be seen, however, how far such publicity rights go and what will be the factors that bestow such status on a celebrity.