Rihanna has won a legal dispute against Topshop over a T-shirt showing her image, with the high street store ordered to pay a further £1.5 million in costs.
A London Court of Appeal upheld a ban on the store for selling the sleeveless garment featuring an unapproved Rihanna image, shown below. The image used was taken from a photo captured during a video shoot.
A number of artists are now making efforts to defend against such an infringement, with Taylor Swift recently trademarking a number of key phrases from her album, but this is the first successful celebrity case of its kind.
No fewer than three appeal judges agreed that marketing the item without Rihanna’s approval amounted to “passing off.”
Rihanna had sued Topshop’s parent company Arcadia for $5m (£3.3m) back in 2013. Mr. Justice Birss found that buyers would have been tricked into buying the top because of a “false belief” it had been approved, and he added that it represented a loss of control over Rihanna’s reputation in the “fashion sphere.”
The store was found guilty of unlawfully passing off her image, and Rihanna claimed damages for the use of her image, described as “unflattering.” Arcadia was also ordered to pay Rihanna’s legal costs, even though the judge found the size of her bill “startling” and “somewhat surprising” when Arcadia’s legal costs for the Rihanna trial amounted to just £350,000.
This week, Topshop lawyers tried persuading appeal judges that the law on celebrity merchandising had been misunderstood, arguing that the subject was a “decorated T-shirt” like merchandise featuring stars like Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.
It was suggested that Rihanna was wrongly using the law to claim “only a celebrity may ever market his or her own character.” All three judges unanimously dismissed the appeal, perhaps because they didn’t really understand the point either.
An inquiry into damages and profits made by Topshop from the garment has yet to be heard.
In apparently speaking about her latest photo shoot, posing with sharks on the front cover of Harper’s Bazaar, the legally astute Rihanna may have subtly alluded to the battle.
“I try my best to avoid the sharks of life, but I have had my share of experiences with them, and in those cases I just have to handle them accordingly. But I do not swim with sharks … sharks swim with sharks.”
Now that’s deep. It seems from this whole legal dispute that Rihanna would totally be prepared to fight sharks if they used her image without asking.
[Image – Rihanna Instagram]