Rihanna successful in T-shirt claim

Posted: 2nd August 2013

TopshopWell known pop star, Rihanna, has won a passing off claim against leading fashion retailers, Topshop, after they marketed a T-shirt bearing her image. The High Court found that the singer’s fans were likely to have been deceived into believing that the T-shirt was official merchandise that had been authorised by her.

The T-shirt, which showed a photograph of the star in a bra top, which was said to be very similar to images of her used on one of her album sleeves, was marketed by Topshop during the 2012 summer season. Insisting that it had not infringed the star’s rights, the retailer pointed out that it had paid a licence fee to the photographer who had captured the image and who owned the copyright therein.

The Court found that Topshop's ‘symbiotic relationship’ with Rihanna, and other celebrities who wear its clothes in public, meant that a substantial number of the singer’s fans were likely to have been confused into a false belief that the disputed garment had been endorsed by their idol.

Mr Justice Birss ruled: "Topshop makes a considerable effort to emphasise connections in the public mind between the store and famous, stylish people. It has done so in the case of Rihanna, placing emphasis on her public persona as a style leader….The true relationship between celebrities and stores like Topshop is a symbiotic one. Each needs the other to advance their interests.

"The public links between Topshop and famous stars in general, and more importantly Rihanna in particular, will enhance the likelihood in the purchaser's mind that this garment has been authorised by her…I am quite satisfied that many fans of Rihanna regard her endorsement as important. She is their style icon.

"Many will buy a product because they think that she has approved of it...they will have been deceived...It is a matter for Rihanna and not Topshop to choose what garments the public think are endorsed by her.

“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. I find that Topshop's sale of this Rihanna T-shirt without her approval was an act of passing off”. The Court’s decision meant that Topshop would either have to pay Rihanna damages or account to her for profits made from the sale of the offending T-shirt.