LONDON: Barbadian singer Rihanna — known for her singles Don’t Stop the Music, Umbrella and Diamonds — on Wednesday won a legal case against British fashion chain Topshop over the use of her image on a T-shirt it sold without her approval. High Court Judge Birss ruled in Rihanna’s favour following a four-day hearing earlier this month.
In March last year, Topshop, which is owned by billionaire Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, started selling a T-shirt with an image of Rihanna on it. The image was a photograph taken by a freelance photographer in Northern Ireland while Rihanna was filming a music video. Topshop had a license from the photographer but no license from Rihanna.
Rihanna, who has a direct endorsement relationship with fashion chain River Island, took the case against Topshop under her full name of Robyn Rihanna Fenty.
In his judgment, Birss said that “a substantial number” of shoppers were likely to be deceived into buying the T-shirt because of a false belief that it had been authorised by Rihanna.
“I find that Topshop’s sale of this Rihanna T-shirt without her approval was an act of passing off. I find for the claimants,” he said. Damages were not determined.
Topshop said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the judgment and would seek permission to appeal. “We robustly dispute the judge’s conclusion,” it said, adding: “There was no evidence of consumer confusion to support the judge’s conclusion.”
Lawyers said the ruling may have set a significant precedent.
“The judge was at pains to make it clear that not every T-shirt with a famous face on it will fall foul of the law, but when an artist has a lot to lose, they have every incentive to sue,” said Sarah Byrt, intellectual property partner at law firm Mayer Brown.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2013.
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