Basic checks were not done by the BBC before its libelous Newsnight report into the abuse in a Welsh children’s home implicating (because of the furious internet and twitter chatter) Lord McAlpine, was run.

At present (there are changes proposed to the Defamation Act as it is) even where an individual remains unnamed, if he or she can be identified and where what is being said is defamatory that individual will have the right to seek compensation for damage to his or her reputation. In the current case, Lord McAlpine’s name was linked to the BBC story prior to it being aired. Clearly the allegations made are highly defamatory, and likely to cause distress.

Where the comment made is true or is based on facts which are true and is fair and in the public interest, there will be a defence. For the most part, the maker of the defamatory comment should have acted responsibly. As stated above, this did not apparently happen with the Newsnight report. Not surprisingly then that the matter has settled with a six figure payment to Lord McAlpine.

This story shows the importance of defamation laws – they are there to protect your reputation, giving you the right to seek redress for damage done to it.

On the flip side, there is an increasing trend for people to trade mark their names to protect the commercial interests associated with their names.

Trade marks (or brands) are used to identify to whom something belongs. Often the product or service will be known for its particular quality.  The value of a good brand is of course undeniable – simple mention of Coca Cola or Virgin immediately links these companies with certain attributes. Copying a trade mark can undermine the commercial reputation of a business and cost it money.

By the same token individuals, who have a commercial value in their name, having built up a reputation, are using trade mark laws to give them legal protection.  In most cases these are individuals who have some kind of “track record”, they are known for something and their names carry weight – Jamie Oliver & Robbie Williams are examples. More recently, of course, Beyonce and Jay-Z are attempting to trade mark their baby daughter’s name across a number of countries (though their bid to do so in some US states has failed) and, in any event, baby has not, in her own right, created anything as of yet.

Trade mark infringement allows you to claim damages for loss of profit. If someone uses your name to make money, where your name has been protected legally, then you may be able to use trade mark infringement laws in your favour. That it has not happened as of yet in the UK, does not necessarily mean it won’t.

How trade marks are used, and how defamation laws will develop will no doubt be driven in part in today’s multimedia and internet based world, where reputations can be spread and defamed in the space of 140 characters.

If you want more information on any of the topics covered by this article, please don’t hesitate to contact Bhavini Kalaria at The London Law Practice on 0208 445 6753 or contact us by email at info@londonlawpractice.com

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