Rihanna Appeal Upheld

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Singer Rihanna has won her Court of Appeal case against Top Shop and its parent Arcadia.

The original case, decided in the High Court in July 2013, found in favour of Rihanna’s claim that Top Shop had committed ‘passing off’ by selling a t-shirt with the star’s image on it taken from the video shoot for her Talk That Talk album.  The case did not concern celebrity image rights per se, but rather the common law protection that passing off gives to brands, celebrity or otherwise.

Typically, brands are best protected by the registered trade mark route.  However, where an unregistered brand enjoys goodwill, e.g. a reputation in the marketplace, and a misrepresentation is made by someone not authorised by the brand owner with the result that damage occurs to the brand owner, there is ‘passing off’.

In the original case, the Court acknowledged the considerable reputation Rihanna had in her image and work, and that the singer’s style and fashion was part of that reputation.  Regarding misrepresentation, the Court noted the singer’s past association with Top Shop/Arcadia whereby certain goods were sold in their stores with authorisation. 

For the t-shirt in question, whilst there was no signage or labelling that indicated authorisation, the Court felt the circumstances of the sale, particularly the nature of the image from the video shoot, and the public links between Top Shop and famous stars (including Rihanna) previously, would enhance the purchaser’s mind that the t-shirt was in fact authorised.   Damage was found to result from the false belief that the t-shirt had been authorised and through lost sales to her merchandising business. 

The Court was keen to stress that the mere sale by a trader of a t-shirt bearing an image of a famous person is not on its own an act of passing off.  The present circumstances, however, did satisfy the legal requirements laid down in the case law.

Further details of the Appeal Court decision will follow.

Note: original case: [2013] EWHC 2310 (Ch) Robyn Rihanna Fenty and others v Arcadia Group Brands limited (T/A Topshop) and others