Setting boundaries for image misappropriations through online catfishing

Authors: Lisa Ndyulo & Nomalanga Mashinini

ISSN: 1996-2185
Affiliations: LLM Graduate, Rhodes University; Senior Lecturer in Law, Rhodes University
Source: South African Mercantile Law Journal, Volume 34 Issue 3, 2022, p. 332 – 347


Social networking platforms have popularised catfishing, which entails creating and using a fake social media account to exploit other users. Catfishing involves acts of online misappropriation because the traits of a person’s identity, such as a name and photograph, can be used by a catfish to pose as another person to deceive other users. Image rights are frequently affected by such acts of impersonation. This article determines whether mere misappropriation of identity suffices as a cause of action for image rights violations. The South African courts must clarify whether mere misappropriation constitutes a ground for violating identity in catfishing cases. Thus, the courts should recognise mere misappropriation as sufficient to yield a claim when the falsification and commercial exploitation of identity cannot be proven. Such an approach will allow for the speedy resolution of disputes and will also ensure that justice is served before the plaintiff suffers irreparable harm as a result of image misappropriations on social media.