Ryanair pays out to Sarkozy and Bruni

Ryanair has been ordered to payout for using the image of newlyweds Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni without their permission. The couple have hardly been ones to shy away from the cameras of late but Ryanair's use of the couple in a print ad in French newspaper Le Parisien saw them rush to the courts for cover. Playing on their wedding, the ad featured the smiling couple with a speech bubble coming out of Bruni's mouth saying that 'With Ryanair my whole family can come to my wedding'. Witty stuff but not in line with the law.

The French court was fairly lenient on the airline, ordering it to pay €60,000 to Carla Bruni while Sarkozy only recieved a derisory €1 - so whats significant about the amounts?

Sarkozy will be upset that he's worth so much less than Bruni but while he may be President, he's not got the celebrity track record that Bruni as model and pop star has accrued. What the court was compensating for was not any human rights related invasion of privacy - their private life was not invaded by the advert that used a picture of them in public and in any event, they have been very 'public' of late so would be unlikely to find a court too sympathetic at an attempt to cry foul over privacy when they've been riding high on the publicty surrounding them and their private life - today's award was for wrongful use of their image.

Celebrities and others do have rights in their image - depending on circumstance these are protected by copyright, trademark or data protection laws - where someone has a commercial value in their image, as Bruni does through her modelling work, then they have the right to sue when their image is used without their consent. This is particularly the case when it is done, as in this scenario, for commercial gain.
Bruni will be upset that she didn't get awarded the half million Euros she had claimed (based on her going rate had the airline engaged her contractually to feature in a campaign). Indeed she may have been awarded more but for the current wave of publicity which could have influence the court to conclude that a nominal award against the airline would suffice.

Is the award enough? arguably not. Ryanair is known for its publicity stunts that guarantee it free media exposure by being outrageous or upsetting people. Why should they be able to get free advertising in this way at the expense of others and by using their image? The argument is that while adverts such as this may be a transparent vehicle for free publicity one has to balance the value of that publicity against the harm the adverts cause. In this case they haven't really harmed Bruni or Sarkozy - they played on existing and topical publicity. So it would be wrong to hit the airline with damages just for being smart, if somewhat outside the strict rules of engagement.

What Sarkozy and Bruni are signalling by taking this action is that when they decide they've had enough of the media or advertiser's glare they will use the law to protect their privacy and image. What should encourage the press is that in having already offered and played out so much of thier life in public, they have engaged a public interest element in what they do - the bottom line is that if you go public then the public, through the press has a right to observe and scritinise you.

A couple of cases for comparison:
1: Former Formula 1 driver Eddie Irvine v Talksport
The radio station had used his image in promotional material without his permission and was ordered to pay out £75,000 for doing so
2: Douglas v Hello - while Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones dropped out of the last round of litigation, the case was more about the control of image rights than about privacy. This led to the battle over these rights between OK! and Hello magazines, the former in effect seeking commercial compensation for the fact that Hello had stolen a lead over its rival by publishing a spoiler
More on Douglas v Hello

Meanwhile Ryanair couldn't - for want of a better phrase - give a stuff - its switched its attentions to Italy where its upsetting the people of Naples by playing on their ongoing rubbish clearance dispute and runing an ad with the caption 'Pay the taxes! Not for waste but to escape'. Its unlikely the city of Naples will follow Sarkozy and Bruni into the courtroom - given its current image and the fact that a city can't of itself sue anyone. More from Reuters

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