Topshop fail to overturn Rihanna image judgment

The high street retailer Topshop has failed in its attempted Appeal against the High Court’s Judgment in favour of the internationally renowned recording artist, Rihanna. Topshop had sold t-shirts featuring a photograph of Rihanna taken at the filming of a video for her Talk That Talk album.

The Judgment, upholding the claims of Rihanna on the specific facts and evidence in the case, suggests potential causes of action open to celebrities in this scenario whilst once again confirming that in English law there is no image right or character right which would allow a celebrity to control the use of his or her name or image. The causes of action, such as breach of contract, breach of confidence, infringement of copyright or, as in the Rihanna case, passing off are identified as the weapons with which a celebrity can seek to prevent unauthorised use of their image.

In this case, which the Appeal Court felt was borderline, Rihanna succeeded in proving the misrepresentation as a result of a combination of factors including her previous commercial relationship with Topshop, the fact that the retailer regularly used social media to highlight links to itself and Rihanna and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that the image used was taken at the filming of an official video ,a fact that would have been readily noticeable to Rihanna fans to the extent that they would be very likely to consider the image used on the t-shirt as being, from an authorised photo shoot. The Judgment clarifies the law as opposed to developing it and, whilst providing a victory for Rihanna in this instance, illustrates the difficulties faced by celebrities in preventing the unauthorised use of their image by third parties.

For advice on all aspects of intellectual property protection contact Philip Herbert on 020 7355 6119 or email pherbert@hamlins.co.uk