Along the roads of southern India, the billboards are plenty – promoting movies, mobile phones, fine silks, Chinese restaurants and Communist Party politicians seeking re-election.
There, along National Highway 49, not far from the mountain town of Munnar, are at least two billboards with an image that would be chilling to most North Carolinians: the smiling visage of Eve Carson, the UNC-Chapel Hill student body president who was killed in 2008.
The billboards advertise Jubeerich Consultancy, a company that appears to offer overseas study opportunities and job placement, mainly in Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The firm’s website features a photograph of 20 attractive, mostly blond, young people, and bills Jubeerich as “The Trusted Name Since 1999.”
But the company’s advertisement does not exude integrity to those who knew Carson, who was abducted, robbed and shot to death in Chapel Hill four years ago this month. The case made international headlines, and two men were later convicted of her murder.
“I’m surprised and disappointed that somebody is using Eve’s image in this way,” said Chuck Lovelace, executive director of the Morehead-Cain Scholars Program. “It certainly does not honor Eve or her family, and they would not want it to be used in this way.”
Carson was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC-CH, where she excelled in academics and leadership. Lovelace and other staff members of the prestigious scholarship program have been close to Carson’s family.
Lovelace said he has spoken with Carson’s mother and would like to help the family stop Jubeerich from using Carson’s image. But he acknowledged that could be difficult.
It’s unclear how many billboards in India – or anywhere else – show the Carson photograph. The same image has appeared in many news accounts since 2008.
It’s also impossible to know how Carson’s image ended up on the company’s signs. Was it an intentional act or was it randomly lifted from the Internet?
Jubeerich did not respond to email questions from The News & Observer. According to the website, the company was founded in New Zealand and has branch offices in India, but there is no contact information for the company in New Zealand. The site lists four offices in India. A woman at the corporate office in India said, to her knowledge, there was no such billboard. She said she had not seen it, nor the photograph of Carson. The woman would not give her name, and she said the office’s manager was “on leave.”
Lovelace said the use of Carson’s photo is disturbing and could be evidence that Jubeerich isn’t very legitimate. “Just from the investigation I’ve done, it doesn’t look like it’s reputable, therefore it’s probably going to be difficult to find them and do anything about it, particularly since it’s in a foreign country,” he said.
Laws are complex and varied on the commercial use of a person’s name or likeness, according to “Right of Publicity 2011,” an online guide to international law and regulation published by Law Business Research Ltd. in the United Kingdom.
The issue is difficult to navigate in the Internet age, where advertising is viral and often embedded in social media.
“However, despite these global challenges, and the potential for an individual in country A to have his or her identity misappropriated halfway around the world in country B, no unifying body of international law exists on the right of publicity,” writes the guide’s editor, Jonathan D. Reichman. “Unlike other intellectual property fields such as copyright, trademark and patent law, there are no international treaties or conventions.”
The guide goes on to say that in India, noncitizens may have certain statutory rights, but do not have constitutional protections of the rights of privacy and publicity.
Appeal to dignity
Deborah Gerhardt, a UNC law professor whose expertise is in copyright and trademark law, said such unauthorized use is often addressed in the courts in the United States.
The copyright owner could sue for infringement in this country, she said. In the case of the Carson photo, the copyright owner is UNC-CH. The picture was her official student body president portrait, and it was taken by a university photographer.
In India, the best recourse may be to appeal to the company on grounds of common decency. “You just have to hope that people will respect the dignity of her family and her memory and understand that for people who see this in the United States, this really evokes a horrible tragedy,” Gerhardt said.
“One would hope that they would respect that and take it down.”