It seems no country is immune from Ryanair’s no-holds-barred advertising. Now it’s Sweden’s turn as two political heavyweights lose patience and sue over their photos in a Ryanair ad under the headline ‘Time to leave the country?’
"Time to leave the country?" The Swedish Prime minister responds with a law suit.
Topic: People in advertising
Who: Ryanair, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and former Foreign Secretary Leila Frievalds
When: March 2006
Swedish Prime minister Göran Persson and former foreign secretary Leila Freivalds have filed a law suit with Stockholm's District Court, against Ryanair for exploiting their images in an advertisement directed to Swedish travellers. The ad had the headline "Time to leave the country?" and a picture of the Prime minister and the foreign secretary. The ad offered a 75% discount on Ryanair's lowest fares. Swedish newspapers could report that after repeated attempts to come to some sort of conciliation the Swedish Prime minister and the foreign secretary felt it necessary to file a law suit against the company. They are claiming 75 000 SEK each in damages which is approximately £6000. They claim that the ad is insulting and offensive to them. The law suit was filed on March 30, 2006.
Name and Image in Advertising Act
The legal basis for the law suit is a Swedish law prohibiting the use of individual's names and/or images in advertising without prior consent, "Lagen om namn och bild i reklam" or the Name and Image in Advertising Act. The protection of the law extends both to private persons as well as celebrities on the condition that they are still alive. The deceased are not legally protected in this sense by Swedish law.
The law only applies when a certain individual can be said to be exploited in advertisement. If for instance the picture shows a crowd of people the law normally would not apply. Nor would it apply when the name used is a common name. In these situations there would have to be other characteristics or indications as to which individual is referred to in the ad. Of course names of famous people, even though they are common, many times are construed as references to the famous individual. Why use "Göran Persson" if you don't mean the Prime Minister? The law applies to look-a-likes. However, sound-a-likes or impressionists, are questionable. A picture of a house in an ad does not give the inhabitants grounds for a complaint. It is not a picture of an individual.
Damages available to claimants
Anyone abused can demand damages and the offending company may also have to pay a fine. For common people normally damages will be somewhere in the range of 15-20 000 SEK. For celebrities it is really not that much higher however there is a tendency for increasing the amounts awarded. If the advertisement contains something detrimental to the individual's character the amount will be significantly higher. A famous Swedish comedian, Robert Gustafsson, was used in an ad for a Swedish pornographic magazine a few years ago. The editor in chief was fined 8 800 SEK and the magazine had to pay damages to Gustafsson in the amount 125 000 SEK of which 50 000 was for the suffering the publication of the ad had caused Gustafsson.
Why this matters
The law suit has just been filed and we have yet to hear Ryanair's defence. However the case seems to be of a "text book character" and it will be interesting to see Ryanair's line of defence. In some cases where government officials have been used, it has been argued that they are referred to in the ad as representatives of their office and not as private persons. Thus the law would not apply. This line of argument has however yet to prove successful. The Prime minister and the former foreign secretary seem to have a good case.
The Ryanair "Time to leave the country?" ad came at a politically difficult time for the Prime minister and the foreign secretary as they had been severely criticised in a report by an independent council for their actions, or lack thereof, in connection with the tsunami catastrophe Christmas 2004. The foreign secretary was also forced to resign shortly after due to other unfortunate actions by her and her office. This will be considered by the Court in assessing the damage claim.
Advertisers in Sweden should be aware of this law, in particular when buying pictures from external sources or using royalty free pictures from the internet. In many cases the photographer or his/her representative has not acquired the necessary permission from the individual(s) showing in the picture. Three young Swedish girls went on vacation to Paris and were photographed in a restaurant having dinner. Their picture was sold to an advertiser who used it in an ad. The girls got compensation as they had not approved the publication of the picture for advertising purposes. So go over your contracts and ensure that this aspect has been covered.