T-Shirt Case Involving Rihanna Goes To Court of Appeal


Entertainment News Report

Release Date

Friday, November 21, 2014


Last year, a row over T-shirts bearing the likeness of Barbadian superstar Rihanna led to a British high court judge imposing a permanent ban on the sale of the shirts by high street fashion chain Topshop.

At the time, the 26-year-old singer’s lawyers argued that the image on the shirt was from an unauthorised photograph taken in 2011 while she was filming a video in Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Birss went on to rule that Topshop’s sale of the top without her approval was, in the circumstances, "passing off."

The high court judge further concluded that Rihanna’s fans might be deceived into thinking she had endorsed the Topshop T-shirt and ruled it must be pulled from the shelves.

Mr Justice Birss also observed it was damaging to the star’s "goodwill" and ultimately represented a loss of control over her reputation in the "fashion sphere."

The "Unapologetic" girl has various lucrative endorsement deals with a number of retailers, including Topshop’s high-street fashion rival River Island.

Now, however, Topshop has asked the appeal judges at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to review the case based on the belief that the previous judge had erred in his approach to the law on celebrity merchandising.

According to Geoffrey Hobbs QC, appearing for Topshop, the starting point in the appeal case was that the court was dealing with a "decorated T-shirt" in a tradition of the merchandising of star images over the decades, including those of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

He went on to argue that Rihanna was wrongly using the law on "passing off" to claim that "only a celebrity may ever market his or her own character."

Unlike what obtains in several other countries, celebrities have no legal right to control the use that is made of their image in Britain.

Mr Hobbs also contended that the public had no expectation that clothes bearing an image were authorised by people shown in that image.

He further challenged Mr Justice Birss’s ruling that, although celebrities had no general right to control the reproduction of their image, Topshop’s use of Rihanna’s image did amount to "passing off."

The case, which is being heard by appeal judges Lord Justice Richards, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice Underhill, is being closely monitored by other retailers, as well as celebrities and their management teams.


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