Rihanna Wins T-Shirt Image Battle
Rihanna has won a legal battle with Topshop over a T-shirt which used her image.
The high street store had appealed against a High Court ruling that selling the “tank” sleeveless T-shirt bearing her image without her approval amounts to “passing off”, a term used to enforce unregistered trademark rights.
But, in an important ruling on celebrity “image rights”, the Court of Appeal upheld a ban on the store selling the item.
Rihanna’s lawyers said the image was from an unauthorised photograph taken while the star was filming a video in Northern Ireland for one of her singles in 2011 and Topshop should remain banned from exploiting it.
Geoffrey Hobbs QC, appearing for Topshop, which is part of the Arcadia Group, argued at the hearing that the court was dealing with a “decorated T-shirt” in a tradition of the merchandising of star images over the decades, including those of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
Mr Hobbs submitted Rihanna was in reality using the law wrongly to claim that “only a celebrity may ever market his or her own character”.
Rihanna has various lucrative endorsement deals with retailers including Topshop’s high-street rival River Island.
Mr Hobbs contended the public had no expectation that clothes bearing an image were authorised by people shown in that image.
He challenged High Court judge Mr Justice Birss’s ruling that, although celebrities had no general right to control the reproduction of their image, Topshop’s use of RiRi’s image did amount to passing off.
The judge had observed the use was damaging to the star’s “goodwill” and represented loss of control over her reputation in the “fashion sphere”.