By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
The recent leaked e-mails to the media between David Beckham and his advisers, expressing his anger and frustration, in not very flattering terms, about being passed over in the latest British New Year’s Honours’ List for a Knighthood, are being dubbed as the ‘Beckileaks’.
From Beckham’s side, these e-mails have been claimed to have been doctored and quoted out of context and are, therefore, misleading; and also further damaging leaks from other e-mails, that apparently have also been ‘hacked’, are feared by his advisers.
Be that as it may, if the disclosures so far are true, they show that Beckham’s bid to obtain a Knighthood and become Sir David Beckham through his charitable work, especially for UNICEF, as an ambassador and fund raiser for the children’s charity, has failed miserably, leaving not only egg on the face of the sporting icon and super star, who is reportedly worth some £280 million, but have also tarnished his world-famous and very valuable brand and image.
In the UK, it is notoriously difficult to protect the image rights of celebrities, as such rights are not legally recognised ‘per se’ as a species of property. So, it is necessary to rely on other legally recognised rights, such as trademarks and copyright, and ‘passing off’, the Common Law equivalent of the Civil Law concept of ‘unfair competition’. This concept is more widely defined and more readily applied constitutionally in Continental Europe, and protects not only celebrities but also private citizens.
However, it may also be possible legally in the UK to protect the image rights of celebrities and famous people, on the basis of breach of privacy, pursuant to article 8 (the right to privacy and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950, which, under the UK Human Rights Act of 1998, has direct effect in British Law.
But, such a cause of action in the UK may prove problematic for David Beckham, because the present disclosures are already in the ‘public domain’ and, therefore, the right stop them, through an injunction, would not be appropriate or available. However, it may be possible to obtain an injunction to prevent any future disclosures.
However, injunctions, being an Equitable remedy, are always in the discretion of the Court and, as such, are not that easy to obtain (see ‘Sporting Injunctions’ by Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw, ‘Global Sports Law and Taxation Reports’, December 2014, at pp. 23-26 (both inclusive)). Furthermore, Beckham has been denied an injunction in the past to stop unwelcome disclosures about his private life by a former nanny, on the grounds that Beckham seeks and lives off publicity, and is very happy to be in the ‘public eye’ when it is favourable for him, and must, therefore, accept publicity when it is not so favourable for him to be so!
It is alleged that a total of some 18.6 million Beckham e-mails, communications and documents have been improperly accessed, representing some three years’ worth of information. It will be interesting, therefore, to see how this unhappy affair further enfolds and develops.
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic, Author and Member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.