Rihanna has won her long-running legal dispute with retailer Topshop, which had been selling a tank top with an image of the popstar without asking her permission, ITV reports.
Three judges at the Court of Appeal today agreed with an earlier High Court ruling that selling the tank top could deceive some shoppers and Rihanna’s fans into thinking she endorsed the item of clothing.
As ITV explains, celebrities in the UK have no legal right to control how their images are used. However, if a product is marketed in a way that could suggest the celebrity endorsed it, that can amount to “passing off,” a legal term for an unauthorised use of a trademark or image rights.
The dispute extends back to 2013 when Rihanna won her case in the High Court and Topshop was ordered to stop selling clothing with her image. Rihanna’s legal team had argued the specific image on that tank top — which featured the star in dungarees and with her hair tied-up in curls — was from an unauthorised photo taken back in 2011 when she was filming the music video for “We Found Love” in Northern Island.
The judge had also considered the fact that Rihanna had a collaboration with other brands at the time, such as rival UK high street retailer River Island and UK telecoms provider TalkTalk, so it could be damaging for Topshop to give the impression she was endorsing its brand. Rihanna also previously had an association with Topshop in the past — in 2010when the retailer ran a competition to win a personal shopping trip with Rihanna and in 2012 when its social media team made a fuss of the popstar visiting the store and wearing its garments — which made the matter more confusing.
Topshop launched its appeal last year, with its lawyer Geoffrey Hobbs QC arguing there is a long tradition of retailers using celebrities’ images — from Elvis Presley to Jimi Hendrix. But that appeal was overturned in court today.
In the full Court of Appeal ruling, Lord Justice Underhill said: “The judge’s conclusion that some members of the relevant public would think that the t-shirt was endorsed by Rihanna is based essentially on two things – her past public association with Topshop (as described by Kitchin LJ at paras. 17-18) and the particular features of the image itself, which is apparently posed and shows her with the very distinctive hairstyle adopted in the publicity for Talk That Talk. I do not believe that either by itself would suffice; in particular, Rihanna’s association with Topshop does not seem to me to have been such as to weigh very heavily in the balance. But the judge considered the question very carefully, taking due account of the factors going the other way, and in my view he was entitled to find that the two features in combination were capable of giving rise to the necessary representation.”
Mike Gardner, a partner and ahead of intellectual property and commercial at Wedlake Bell LLP, told ITV ahead of the ruling today that it could have wider implications: “Although each case is different, if Topshop fails to overturn the ruling, this may discourage other retailers from selling similar items in the future and may lead other celebrities to take a tougher line in policing their rights.”
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