Singer successful in claim over t-shirt bearing her image
Rihanna has succeeded in a passing off claim brought against Topshop, in relation to a t-shirt sold in shops and online, featuring a photograph of the singer.
The t-shirt in question was not endorsed by Rihanna, who had endorsed clothing to be sold by retailers, including Topman (also part of the Arcadia Group) in the past. The singer claimed that Topshop had tried to pass the t-shirts off as having been approved by her. The High Court upheld the claim, finding that a substantial number of purchasers would be deceived into thinking that the t-shirt had been approved by Rihanna and have bought it for that reason. The court found that this would be damaging to her goodwill.
The judge emphasised that claims of this nature are fact-specific:
“The mere sale by a trader of a t-shirt bearing an image of a famous person is not, without more, an act of passing off. However the sale of this image of this person on this garment by this shop in these circumstances is a different matter.”
Rihanna has a large merchandising and endorsement operation, and is known as a style icon. The judgment made clear that it is no longer the case that the only garments officially endorsed by a musician will be the screen-printed merchandise available at gigs. Today musicians and other celebrities can and do endorse a range fashion products. The fact that neither the word “Rihanna” nor her branding logo (known as the “R slash”) were present on the garment was not sufficient to defeat the claim. The court found that although these were often used on garments endorsed by the singer, this was not universally the case; the public could still be misled.
Mr Justice Birss also made clear that the case was not to do with “so called image rights”, emphasising that “there is today in England no such thing as a free standing general right by a famous person (or anyone else) to control the reproduction of their image.”
The judgment can be found here.
‘Rihanna Wins Topshop T-shirt Court case’ – BBC News
‘Rihanna wins legal battle over Topshop t-shirt‘ – The Times