Court of Appeal upholds Rihanna passing off claim

Singer successful in dispute with Topshop over t-shirt bearing her image

The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court decision in a claim for passing off brought by the singer Rihanna against Topshop.

The dispute centered around a t-shirt which featured a photograph of the singer, but was not endorsed by or in any way connected with her. The High Court found that a substantial number of purchasers would be deceived into thinking that the t-shirt had been approved by Rihanna, would have bought it for that reason, and that this would be damaging to her goodwill.

The Court of Appeal today upheld that decision, unanimously dismissing the appeal.

The court did however emphasise that the outcome was dependent on the particular facts of thise case, with Lord Justice Underhill stating: “I regard this case as close to the borderline”. The image used on the t-shirt was very distinctive, having been derived from a photograph which was taken when she was on a video shoot for a single from her Talk That Talk album. Similar images were used in the promotion of that album. Rihanna runs large merchandising and endorsement businesses, including the endorsement of clothing bearing an “R” logo (known as the “R slash”). Topshop had previously publicised its connections with Rihanna including through a styling competition offering the entrants the chance to win a personal shopping appointment with Rihanna at their flagship London store.

The court made it clear (as did Mr Justice Birss at first instance) that the use of an image of a person on a garment was not, of itself, passing off; and that under English law a celebrity does not have a right to control the use of their image generally.

The injunction granted by the High Court “simply recognises that 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 a misrepresentation.” (per Lord Justice Kitchen)

A full case report on the judgment will appear on the 5RB website shortly.


Judgment via Bailli

BBC News – Popstar wins image battle

Daily Telegraph – Rihanna wins legal battle with Topshop over t-shirt

Guardian – Rihanna wins Topshop t-shirt row

Sky News – Rihanna wins Topshop t-shirt image battle