The famous aren't public property

Update: August, 12/2015 - 09:06

by Hoang Anh 

The matter was one of the personal rights' topics debated by lawmakers and legal experts commenting on the country's Civil Code (revised) during a conference organised by the National Assembly's Institute of Legislative Study last month. The consensus was that famous personalities, like all others, are entitled to protection from those wanting to use their names without permission. This right goes without saying in most foreign countries, where to knowingly use another person's name for gain invites an immediate crackdown by the law.

However, as we have said, in Viet Nam, the situation is different. Le Quang Vy, a lawyer from the HCM City Bar Association, said the revised Civil Code should prohibit the use of famous names or similar names that may cause confusion. He would like to see the situation conform with world usage. "There are cases in which individuals and organisations here deliberately use famous personalities' names to cause harm to their reputation or to make profit without their permission," Vy said.

In December 2012, more than 2,000 people in southern Ben Tre Province bought tickets to a concert that promised the performance of a number of well-known singers and comedians. The event came to a sudden standstill when the crowd angrily realised it had been tricked into buying tickets for what was really a non-event. Most bought tickets just to see their favourite performers. When there were no appearances, they demanded their money back and the concert organiser reported for fraud.

Many Vietnamese personalities are surprised to find pictures of themselves, often clumsily edited, promoting various products and services on the Internet. Many local companies think that actors, movie stars and singers are like public property, to be used (exploited) at the public's convenience.

Not only are photos often used without permission, they were sometimes used to promote products and services, that directly competed with the products that they legally represented – or were shoddy products of questionable quality. Notably, one recent Facebook page used a photo of a Miss Viet Nam winner to promote a line of cosmetic products – without her permission.

When the annoyed beauty contacted the page administrators, they said she would have to pay to shut it down. They admitted their unpermitted use of the image was identity theft but kept insisting it had generated thousands of "likes" and Facebook friends and that someone should pay for the publicity.

Nguyen Duc Chanh, a lawyer from the HCM City Bar Association, told the HCM City Legal newspaper that the lack of regulations regarding the use of people's names without their permission invited individuals and organisations to abuse the system.

The other side of the debate, however, noted that it was not the names of famous personalities that required protection, but products and value to society created under those names should be protected.

But the Vietnamese legal system in this case appears to be in a lost cul-de-sac. For instance, lawyers Dang Thanh Tri and Duong Vinh Tuyen from the Binh Phuoc Bar Association insisted that trying to prohibit the use of famous names – or any names for that matter – was not feasible but would somehow limit personal rights.

"We should therefore focus in stopping imitation of trademarks or intellectual works without permission," he said.

In a related event, last September the Argentine town Rosario – home town of celebrated football super star Lionel Messi – prohibited parents naming their babies Messi.

This was allegedly to prevent confusion when many children with the same name started to grow up. The authorities admitted they were concerned following a similar situation with the name Diego after the Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona starred at the 1986 World Cup. — VNS