George Clooney,David Beckham and the software demo

I’m in the middle of doing a Magic Quadrant at the moment.  It is a lot more work than I imagined, even if Jim is doing the lion’s share of it.  By the end of the process we will have had in depth presentations from nearly 30 vendors, and interviewed many of their customers. But this post isn’t about the details of employee performance management software.

Copyright is a big deal in the software industry. It is the basis on which  most software is sold or  licensed.  licence v sale is another can of worms, and not for a friday evening post.

Software IP is  considered to be a fascinating subject by a very small segment of the population, but it is the foundation upon which our industry is built.  Folks such as Geeklawyer make fortunes out figuring software IP law out.  Software companies around the world pounce aggressively on abuse of  copyright and other IP forms. This is their right, and they are pretty good at exercising it.

Celebrities also make use of copyright and other laws  to protect their image, and to earn their crust(s). When David Beckham advertises a razor, or a pair of sunglasses, the company using that image has coughed up big money for the pleasure thereof. Mr Beckham’s advisors think long and hard whether a particular product fits with his image. 

Nestle paid handsomely for Mr Clooney to sip Nespresso.  And there is a mass of law, and troops of lawyers to defend Mr Beckham’s and Mr Clooney’s  rights to their images. Joe citizen has certain rights, but celebrity image rights is big business. California, home to many celebrities and software companies has strong laws to provide additional rights to celebrities.

Celebrities, athletes, and artists have certain rights in regard to the commercial use of their image, voice, or persona. Under sections 3344 and 3344.1 of the California Civil Code, reproducing or using the image, voice, or persona of someone without their permission constitutes a violation of their privacy rights.

Privacy rights extend to the celebrity status of deceased persons as well. Permission for the reproduction of photographs, movie stills, or other depictions of a deceased celebrity requires permission from the person or corporation who owns the rights to them. thanks to Fergus law office for the info .

Under UK law, the law of passing off can sometimes be used to prevent a celebrity’s image being used overtly to promote a commercial product. Have a look here at this case. more details here.  For those interested in comparative rights to one’s own image, see this paper on SSRN.

Why is it then, that so many software demos include images and data of Mr Beckham, Brad Pitt,  Cameron Diaz, James Bond and Matt Damon?

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that using their names and images without their permission infringes the self same copyright laws that enable software companies to charge money for software. Never mind the more complex and messy issue of privacy and reputation.  

When you demo enterprise software, don’t promote George Clooney to Deputy Vice President,  make jokes about David Beckham being on the bench because he is a bit slow or change Ms Zeta-Jones’ family dental benefit plans. Unless of course, you have permission from the said celeb.  I’ve not even started on the data protection law implications of processing their personal data…

I’m not a lawyer, so if you don’t believe me, have a chat with your in-house legal counsel. You might think it is cool to have a bunch of celebrities in your demo system, but I’m not sure that it is such a good idea. 

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5 thoughts on “George Clooney,David Beckham and the software demo

  1. How do you feel about using Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny? The explanation I’ve always heard for using “known” names is that it makes the system feel more comfortable for the person being demoed to, because they have some association with the name. Also gives the demoer a chance to lighten up the discussion, talking about benching Beckham, or buying extra travel insurance for Bugs Bunny.

    My personal take has always been that it’s distracting (probably my ADD kicking in). You tell me you’re going to make a team of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and I’m suddenly playing Yellow Submarine in my heard instead of listening to you. Better to go with more generic names, and focus on the system instead of the “characters” within it.

  2. Gretchen.

    Mickey Mouse has much to answer for in the field of copyright law. He should be avoided unless one has a signed document from his owners allowing his mention.

  3. This is an interesting point. I’ve not seen software demos with celebs but there is certainly a potential problem in the UK as well as California for the companies doing them.

    Celebrity rights are less well developed here but there is certainly a recognition that celebrities market themselves for promotion. Where an endorsement is claimed or implied it is certainly possible that an action for passing off might be sustainable if it damages there reputation or their potential to earn money in that field. For example if Apple used Clooney in an unauthorised advert he would be deprived, probably, from the opportunity of doing a lucrative ad with Microsoft.

  4. Just wondering … do you have signed statements allowing the mention of the aformentioned celebrities for use in a blog post discussing the use of celebrity names and images?

    Like I said… just wondering.
    Nigel

  5. In my opinion a lot of celebrity do-gooders are totally phony and engage in so called good deeds merely for positive publicity. I have to say that I don’t think that George is one of the phonies out there in the world of celbrity do-gooders. I admire what he is doing for the Haitian people. I wish more celebrities were as real as he is when it comes to helping out those less fortunate in the world. So kudos to George and his desire to make this world a better place.

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