LONDON, England, Monday January 26, 2015 – Barbados’ pop princess Rihanna has emerged triumphant after a two-year legal battle with British high street fashion chain Topshop, which used the singer’s image on a line of T-shirts without her permission.
The Grammy Award-winner sued Topshop’s parent company Arcadia for £3.3million (about US$5.5million) over the garments, which featured an unauthorised photograph taken during the filming of a video for her hit song “We Found Love” in 2011.
Back in 2013, the 26-year-old superstar’s legal team successfully argued that her fans would have incorrectly assumed that she had endorsed the line of sleeveless T-shirts sold by Topshop.
The courts consequently banned the chain from selling Rihanna tank T-shirts without her permission, but Topshop moved to overturn the ruling.
The case was finally put to rest on Thursday when the Court of Appeal upheld the ban, agreeing that marketing the clothing without the Barbadian singer’s approval amounted to “passing off,” a term used to enforce unregistered trademark rights.
The court also found that the image of the singer was similar to the one used on her 2011 “Talk that Talk” album and fans could be misled.
The star, who is perceived to be a fashion icon by many of her fans, had, moreover, signed a deal worth a rumoured £800,000 to design a range with High Street fashion rival River Island in 2012.
In the appeal, heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in November, Topshop lawyer Geoffrey Hobbs QC argued that there was a tradition of merchandising star images, including those of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
Rihanna’s legal team countered that the image was from an unauthorised photograph and Topshop should be banned from exploiting it.
This view was endorsed by Thursday’s judgement, in which Lord Justice David Kitchin noted: “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 and authorised it.
“In short the judge found that the sale of the T-shirt bearing this image amounted to a representation that Rihanna had endorsed it. In my judgement the reasoning of the judge discloses no error of principle.”
He added that although Rihanna knew she had no right in English law to prevent any use of her image, this did not rule out the judge finding Topshop had been guilty of “misrepresentation.”
“The vice in the impugned activities lay not in the use of Rihanna’s image but in using it in such a way as to cause misrepresentation,” he said.
The judge was right to find Topshop was “recognizing and seeking to take advantage” of Rihanna’s public perception as a style icon, he added.
Legal expert have commented that the ruling should serve as a warning to businesses who use celebrities’ images without permission, as it will pave the way for similar cases to go to court.