Rihanna had just come to the end of a long, drawn-out legal battle against Topshop, one of Britain’s largest high street retailers, and she has been awarded a massive $5.5 million by a British court.
The pop star sued Topshop’s parent company, Arcadia, for compensation after it sold thousands of T-shirts which featured a photo of Rihanna taken during a video shoot for her hit We Found Love in 2011.
Back in 2013, Rihanna’s legal team was successful in its argument that her fans would have falsely assumed she officially endorsed the new Topshop range featuring her, even though she didn’t.
At the time, the courts banned Topshop from selling a Rihanna tank T-shirt without her permission, but the fashion chain tried to overturn the initial ruling.
Nevertheless, today the Court of Appeal upheld the ban, agreeing that marketing the clothing without Rihanna’s approval amounted to “passing off,” a term used to enforce unregistered trademark rights.
Following today’s ruling, 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.”
Topshops’ lawyer, Geoffrey Hobbs QC, who was trying to overturn the previous ruling, argued that there was a tradition, and therefore a precedent, of merchandising star images over the decades, including those of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
But Rihanna’s legal team responded to that by confirming that the image was from an unauthorised photograph taken while she was filming a music video.
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.”
Accordingly, the judge was correct to find that Topshop was “recognizing and seeking to take advantage” of Rihanna’s public perception as a style icon.