August 2017. The character ‘Striker Lucian’ in Riot Games’ computer game League of Legends infringes the portrait rights of former Dutch footballing star Edgar Davids, Amsterdam’s District Court concluded in a ruling on 9 August.

Cashable potential

The ruling stated that Striker Lucian’s skin colour, athletic build, aggressive style of play, dreadlocks and protective glasses meant he could be viewed as a portrait of Edgar Davids. And since Davids’ portrait has ‘cashable potential’ (in other words, the footballer can charge for the commercial use of his portrait), he can sue the gaming franchise over Striker Lucian.

Scope of portrait rights

This again shows how extensive the scope of portrait rights is. In fact, Striker Lucian looks nothing like Davids; his mouth in particular reveals immediately that he’s not Davids. But that cuts no ice where portrait rights are concerned.

‘Breekijzer’ ruling

In the 2003 ‘Breekijzer’ ruling, the Dutch Supreme Court concluded that the definition of a portrait doesn’t require the subject’s actual face to be recognisable. If other elements indicate who is being portrayed, this can itself constitute a portrait and hence a potential infringement. In the case of Davids, it was chiefly these other elements – the hair, the dreadlocks and of course the glasses – that influenced the ruling.

Katja Schuurman

Another notable case highlighting the extensive coverage of portrait rights was the one brought by Dutch actress Katja Schuurman against the search engine i-Local. The ruling stated that even a back-view of ‘Katja’ constituted an infringement of her portrait rights, partly due to the other elements shown, such as her hair and the fact that the spoof Katja was shown wearing the same outfit as the real one did when she promoted the Gouden Gids business guide.

Left: the real Katja advertising the Gouden Gids, and right: the fake Katja promoting i-Local: a portrait of Katja

Bas Kist