Rihanna wins £3million legal battle against high street chain Topshop as judge rules
London ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Robyn Rihanna Fenty, known by her stage name Rihanna has won a two-year multi-million pound legal battle with Topshop after they unlawfully used her image on a popular T-shirt sold to thousands of fans.
The pop star sued Topshop’s parent company Arcadia for £3.3million ($5.5million) over the clothing, which featured a photo taken during a video shoot for her hit ‘We Found Love’ in 2011.
In 2013 her legal team successfully argued her fans, who saw her as a fashion icon, would have falsely thought she had endorsed the garment sold by the high street fashion store.
In their first legal skirmish the courts banned the store selling a Rihanna ‘tank’ sleeveless T-shirt without her permission – but the fashion chain then tried to overturn the initial ruling.
Today the Court of Appeal upheld the ban agreeing that marketing the clothing without the 26-year-old singer’s approval amounts to ‘passing off,’ a term used to enforce unregistered trademark rights.
It also found the image was similar to the one used on her 2011 Talk that Talk album and fans could be misled.
The legal battle threat came despite the What’s My Name singer having dined with Sir Philip and music mogul Simon Cowell while on her Christmas break to Barbados in 2010.
The star, who in 2012 signed a deal worth a rumoured £800,000 to design a range with High Street rival River Island, tweeted about the Boxing Day meal they had together, saying: ‘Just had dinner w/ Simon Cowell Philip Green @ Sandy Lane! Great night!’
She has also spent time with Sir Philip’s daughter Chloe while holidaying at the same time in the Caribbean two years ago.
Today Lord Justice David Kitchin said: ‘People could be deceived into buying the t-shirt perhaps believing it was authorised by Rihanna.
‘Topshop sold the t-shirt without Rihanna’s approval and this amounted to passing off.’
In the appeal, heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in November last year, Topshop lawyer Geoffrey Hobbs QC, who was trying to overturn the previous ruling, argued there was a tradition of merchandising star images over the decades, including those of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
However, Rihanna’s legal team said the image was from an unauthorised photograph taken while she was filming a music video in Northern Ireland and Topshop should be banned from exploiting it.
It was this view that was endorsed by today’s judgement.
Lord Justice Kitcin added: ‘In the present case I am entirely satisfied that the judge did have a proper regard to the distinction between endorsement and general character merchandising.
‘The judge considered the use of this image would in all the circumstances of the case, indicate that the t-shirt had been authorised and approved by Rihanna, many of her fans regard her endorsement as important for she is their style icon, and would buy the t-shirt thinking she had approved an authorised it.
‘In short the judge found that the sale of the t-shirt bearing this image amounted to a representation that Rihanna had endorsed it. In my judgement the reasoning of the judge discloses no error of principle.’
He added though Rihanna knew she had no right in English law to prevent any use of her image, this did not rule out the judge finding Topshop had been guilty of ‘misrepresentation’.
He added: ‘The vice in the impugned activities lay not in the use of Rihanna’s image but in using it in such a way as to cause misrepresentation.
‘Topshop is in effect contending not for the image right but rather for a positive right to market goods bearing an image even if the use of that image in particular circumstances to particular customers gives rise to a misrepresentation.
‘To accede to that submission would be to sanction a trade which results in in the deception of the public.’
He added the judge was right to find Topshop was ‘recognizing and seeking to take advantage’ of Rihanna’s public perception as a style icon.
Lord Justice Kitchin also added the judge was right to find the ‘striking’ with Rihanna posing facing the camera with her hair up in a scarf looked similar to images from the recent Talk that Talk album.
He said this meant there was a danger it could be taken to be an ‘authorised’ publicity shot from the single, which it was not.
A legal expert has said today’s ruling should be a warning to businesses who use celebrities images without their permission, as it will allow others to bring similar cases to court.
Mike Gardner, a partner and head of intellectual property at Wedlake Bell, said: ‘Rihanna was forced to rely on the English common law right of passing off because in the UK, unlike certain other countries, there is no ‘image rights’ law to help celebrities to control the commercial use of their image.
‘This ruling, in what was seen as a finely balanced case, may encourage other celebrities to make similar claims in the future.
‘Retailers will have to be extra careful in how they sell items bearing celebrity images.
‘They will need to learn lessons from what happened with Topshop.
‘Anything that is seen as wrongly suggesting an official tie-up or endorsement by the celebrity could lead to legal action.’For more news and stories, join us on Facebook,Twitter , or contact us through our Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com