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22 January 2015Trademarks

Rihanna victorious in second round of image battle

A UK appeals court has confirmed a judgment that saw singer Rihanna win a legal battle against high street store Topshop following its use of her image.

The UK Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the English High Court, which had ruled that by selling t-shirts bearing Rihanna’s image, Topshop could have led consumers to believe that the products had been endorsed by her.

Topshop was banned from selling the t-shirts after the High Court ruling in 2013.

In a decision released today (January 22), the Court of Appeal’s three judges said Topshop’s marketing of the item without Rihanna’s approval amounted to passing off.

The image in question, which shows Rihanna wearing a white bra top, was taken in 2011 by a freelance photographer.

Topshop’s parent company Arcadia Group Brands acquired the photographer’s permission to use the image but Rihanna’s lawyers claimed the company did not seek authorisation from her.

In the original case, Rihanna, suing under her real name Robyn Rihanna Fenty, claimed she was entitled to £3.3 million ($5 million) in damages from Arcadia.

Her passing off claims were accepted in July 2013 by High Court judge Justice Birss, who said consumers would be likely to buy the t-shirts if they thought they was endorsed by Rihanna. He banned the shop from selling the products.

Arcadia appealed against the ruling and claimed that Birss misunderstood the law.

But the claims were unanimously dismissed by appeal court judges Lord Justice Richards, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice Underhill.

In his judgment, Kitchin said the court recognised that as well as being a famous singer and celebrity, Rihanna had also been involved in the fashion world and had previously collaborated with Topshop, which could have made consumers believe the image had been endorsed by her.

“It follows that the judge was entitled to find that the sale by Topshop of the t-shirt amounted to passing off. I would therefore dismiss the main appeal,” he wrote.

Kenny Mullen, partner at the London office of law firm Withers, said that although the decision confirms that there’s no legal ‘image right’ in the UK, other laws (such as passing off) can be used to protect celebrities from having their image used on merchandise without authorisation.

He added: “Retailers and designers are reminded that simply getting the right to use a photograph from a photographer does not mean they can use the celebrity’s image on products. All required rights clearances need to be checked out.”

Arcadia did not respond to a request for comment.

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More on this story

31 July 2013   A UK court has ruled in favour of pop star Rihanna in her dispute with retailer Topshop over T-shirts carrying her image.