I-less in Guernsey

MANY readers have asked about the creation of a new "intellectual property" right in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the island in the Channel that is British Crown Dependency but not part of the UK or the EU. Here's what the Freelance has found so far: it's strange, but not apparently lethal.

From 3 December, people and companies are able to register a "personnage" - rights that in many ways resemble a trademark in the "image" of a person or group; whether flesh or corporate, real or fictitious; and whether alive, or dead or wound up in the past century. Registration of an individual costs £1000 for 10 years, plus agent's fees.

As the Freelance sees it, this will work as a tax dodge. Currently, for example, Starbucks in the UK pays Starbucks Netherlands for use of its trademark rights. It pays enough, doubtless by coincidence, to register a UK tax loss and take advantage of a low Netherlands tax rate. The new right will allow a sports personality - or a presenter or columnist - to register their "image" in Guernsey and have a part of their income sent to a company there that licences its commercial use - and pays no corporation tax.

There will be side-effects: lawyers are curious about what these may turn out to be. A briefing from Taylor Wessing solicitors suggests that companies may block their websites in Guernsey, as a foolproof means of avoiding unintentional infringement. The rights can be assigned, which opens a number of bizarre possibilities, including contracts that take away performers' rights to depict themselves.

Registered natural persons and groups of them, and their heirs, gain the moral rights to be identified with uses of their image and to object to distortion or mutilation of their images.

Crucially for journalism, all image rights are subject to "exceptions" that allow "fair dealing" for the purposes of news reporting, commentary and satire, as well as for education, research, the arts, and "incidental" use including the mere presence of a registered personnage in a crowd. Sadly, the scope of these permitted uses remains to be determined, expensively, in court, probably in Guernsey.

Last modified: 01 Dec 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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