Image Rights, Privacy and Related Rights in the Workplace: High Court Case of Sikuku v. Uganda Baati

Circled: Sikuku, maybe.

Circled: Sikuku, maybe.

“The persons who created and did the video shooting or who employed the person who carried out the work of shooting the photos and video is/are the authors or author of the works. The exact relationship between an author and a person having neighbouring rights has to be clear and not hazy. A photographer who films activity in a market might not require permission of everybody in the market to publish or use the works.” – Madrama J. at page 15.

This blogger has come across a recent High Court decision of Sikuku v. Uganda Baati HCCS No. 0298 of 2012 before the very able Honourable Justice Mr. Christopher Madrama, whose decisions we have previously discussed here and here. A copy of the present judgment is available here. Sikuku, a long-time employee of Uganda Baati claimed that the latter was unfairly benefiting from the use of his images in Uganda Baati advertisements presented in both photographic and audio-visual forms to the public. Sikuku sought an order for the payment of Uganda shillings 150,000,000/= as “usage fees” from Uganda Baati. Sikuku contended that his employer had infringed his rights under the Uganda Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act as well as the Constitution of Uganda. The court dismissed Sikuku’s entire case against Uganda Baati. The learned Madrama J. found that Sikuku does not qualify to have neighbouring rights as protected by the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006. Further, the court found that Sikuku has not proved unlawful interference with his constitutional right of privacy under article 27 by Uganda Baati.

This blogpost discusses the Uganda High Court’s treatment of the intersecting issues of image/privacy rights, and neighbouring rights as they arose in the Sikuku case. Ultimately, this blogpost finds that this case is instructive for participants both behind and infront of the camera lens.

It is not disputed that Sikuku appears in photos used in Uganda Baati’s in-house SAFAL magazine and the Contractors Year Planner. It is also not disputed that Sikuku appears on audiovisual adverts commissioned by Uganda Baati which were broadcast on several television stations including WBS and NTV. However the court had to determine whether or not these “appearances” amounted to “performances” as defined in copyright law and by extension, whether Sikuku fell within the definition of a “performer”.

A “performer” under section 2 of the Uganda Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act is defined to include an:

“actor or actress, singer, musician, dancer or other person who act, sing, deliver, declaim, play in, interpret, or otherwise perform literary or artistic works or expressions of folklore.”

Madrama J. in his judgment states that Sikuku cannot be a “performer” under the Act. His reasoning is thus:-

“The evidence demonstrates that the Plaintiff [Sikuku] was going about his business when he was filmed and photographed. He was not required to pose for the photograph or for the filming though they had been given new uniforms for the occasion. He was filmed and photographed in the ordinary course of his performance as a worker. (…) From the definition under the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act the Plaintiff is not an actor because he was filmed and photographed in the ordinary course of his work as an Employee of the Defendant. (…) the Plaintiff is not a performer whose action was deliberate so as to be a necessary ingredient of the works complained about and which ought to be paid in terms of performance fees (…) It is debatable whether the advertisement prominently portrays the Plaintiff’s photo or actually displays the Defendant’s products together and incidentally with the workers engaged in the work of production of the products using the machinery. The plaintiff is not at all the major or main feature of the advertisement. (…) The Plaintiff is not an artist and he was not bringing special skills so as to properly present the Defendant’s products. He was merely going about his business when he was filmed.”

On this point, this blogger concurs with the judge’s careful consideration of the definition of “performer”. Sikuku’s role in the audio-visual work cannot be likened to that of an extra in a movie or other production. While it is clear that Sikuku may fall within the category of “other person who acts, sings, delivers, declaims, plays in, interprets, or otherwise performs”, the missing part appears to be the subject matter of the “performance”. In the case of an extra, there is a script and an assigned role given to each “performer” such as “workman #1 operating heavy machine”, which would appear in the movie credits at the end of the movie.

On the issue of image/privacy rights, the court provides a useful analysis of the privacy clause in the Constitution of Uganda, which closely mirrors the privacy article in Kenya. In finding that there was no infringement of privacy rights, the court correctly reasoned as follows:-

“The court should consider whether photos of Employees taken in the course of their employment showing them at work cannot be used by the Employer for purposes of advertisement without consent or payment of consideration. The plaintiff should demonstrate that the filming or photo was taken in a private moment such us when eating or resting. Such a conclusion should be based on the terms of the contract. In the absence of the terms of any contract excluding an Employer from publishing photos and audio visual works of products including members of staff in a factory carrying out their work, the Plaintiff has no case presented before the court. As far as the rights to privacy is concerned, someone who works in a factory as contained in exhibit P1 and P2 cannot claim a right to privacy. The factory is owned by the Defendant and the Defendant can bring in people at any time to inspect the factory thereby excluding the rights to privacy.”

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