Infringement case involving DJ Niki Belucci´s right of publicity in Colombia

Last week, news exposed how the appearance of Hungarian DJ Niki Belucci[1] was falsely advertised for a party during the Ferias del Calado y el Bordado organized by the municipality of Asermanuevo (Valle del Cauca). As it was declared by model Angie Rodriguez –who mislead the audience into believing she was the DJ- she was contacted by a producer hired by the municipality to organize the event in which the Hungarian was to appear.

Once the story was revealed, radio station W Radio was able to interview both, the Colombian model and the DJ Niki Belucci. The latter added she is considering the possibility of seeking legal representation in Colombia to take legal actions. In such case, it is interesting to identify which actions are available for celebrities to protect themselves from this type of impersonation.

On one hand, Article 296 of the Criminal Code criminalizes the conduct of false impersonation for whom. ” . . impersonates a person or claims a different name. . . or quality. . . ” to benefit themselves or a third party. This case fits the described conduct because the model identified herself to third parties as the Hungarian DJ, and sought to obtain a benefit for her and the producer who hired her.

On the other hand, regarding intellectual property, a false impersonation involves the unauthorized use of the image of a person. In this case, the name and profession of Niki Belucci are features that allow her to be identified as a specific individual. Thus, her right of publicity was infringed since the municipality had offer to pay in exchange for her participation in the event. This situation would allow her to file a complaint for unfair competition and violation of the right of publicity (in accordance with the copyright regime which establishes image rights).

Nonetheless, from a trademark perspective, the case would not be as clear. It is important to note that, like many other celebrities, this DJ uses a stage name[2]. That is how the performer identifies herself commercially as an entertainment service provider. Hence, it is necessary to register such name as a trademark at the Colombian Patents and Trademarks Office (Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio), unless it is a well-known trademark. Otherwise, she would not be entitled to bring actions for trademark infringement.

A second option to protect the DJ’s rights through the trademark regime is to consider the name Niki Belucci as a trade name. Thus, it would be possible to defend it based on its prior use since this type of distinctive sign does not require registration in Colombia. However, the right to a trade name is lost due to a lack of use. Therefore, if she stopped using it in Colombia at some point, it became available for the model Angie Rodriguez to appropriate it.

To sum up, we are not in front of a simple case. Yet, the risk of criminal punishment could be persuasive enough for the parties involved to reach a mutual agreement on the matter.

[1] The interview is available in the following link: http://www.wradio.com.co/noticias/regionales/polemica-por-suplantacion-de-la-dj-niky-belucci-en-las-fiestas-de-ansermanuevo/20160816/nota/3218478.aspx

[2] According to Wikipedia, her real name is Nikolett Pósán. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niki_Belucci, Last access August 22nd 2016.