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July 16, 2021

Court Case Bulletin (CCB): Right to Privacy Cannot be Inherited or Enforced Posthumously

Author: Janaki Arun

In the matter of Deepa Jayakumar v. AL Vijay and Ors. [O.S.A.No.75 of 2020], a Division Bench [R. Subbiah and S.K.S Kurup, JJ.] of the Madras High Court, by judgement dated April 16, 2021, dismissing an appeal filed by the plaintiff-legal heir of deceased person against denial of an interim injunction under O.XXXIX R1&2 of the CPC pending trial of the suit, has effectively held that the right to privacy extinguishes with the life of a person and cannot be inherited or enforced posthumously.

Article 21 of the Constitution states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” The statutory interpretational issue in this case can be seen to be whether the right to privacy, recognized as part of right to life and liberty, is guaranteed even posthumously, inuring to the benefit of the legal heirs/estate of a deceased ‘person’ or whether it is available only to the ‘person’ during the lifetime of that ‘person’. Does ‘person’ in Article 21 refer only to a living ‘person’ or also to a deceased ‘person’? 

The plaintiff, Dr. Jayalalitha’s niece, seeks in her suit to restrain the film producers – defendants from making and releasing a film, web series, etc. on the life of Dr. Jayalalitha, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The plaintiff contends that Dr. Jayalalitha’s life cannot be captured without mentioning her and her family, apprehending the film would sensationalize her aunt’s life for commercial gain and posthumously violate her privacy. She also pointed to the Court several instances from the already released web-series that were allegedly scandalous and damaging to her aunt’s dignity and legacy.

The defendants submit that their biographical film is based on information available in the public domain, and that they have purchased the rights to the book ‘Thalaivi’. As regards the web series, it is submitted that it was an authorized dramatization of an already published book – “The Queen”. Plaintiff’s locus to assert posthumous privacy rights on behalf of her late aunt is disputed on the ground that privacy rights do not subsist after a person’s death.

The Appellate Court, while confirming the Trial Court’s prima facie view against the plaintiff pending trial and the consequent declining of an interim injunction, observed that “…privacy…earned by a person during his or her lifetime, extinguishes with his or her death…the reputation earned cannot be inherited like…property by…legal heirs… Therefore, we are of the opinion that “posthumous right” is not an “alienable right”…”.

Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.

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