Rhianna Wins at Court of Appeal

Many of you may recall in 2012, that Topshop started to sell a T-shirt bearing the image of Rhianna. Topshop had secured a licence from the copyright holder, but had not asked Rhianna’s permission to use her image.

Rhianna brought proceedings claiming, as summarised by Kitchin LJ “that a substantial number of people buying the t-shirt would think that she had endorsed it when, in fact, it was not connected with her at all. Rhianna contended that Topshop’s activities therefore amounted to passing off.”

In July 2013 Mr Justice Birss stated the buyers would have been deceived into buying the top because of a ‘false belief’ that Rhianna had approved of her image being used. It was also stated that using the image on the T-shirt was damaging Rhianna’s good will.

Topshop lawyers argued Mr Justice Birss had misunderstood the law on celebrity merchandising and Rhianna was using the law incorrectly to claim that “only a celebrity may market their own character.”

All three judges dismissed the appeal unanimously.

The final judgement concluded that the sale of the t-shirt containing Rhianna’s image was passing off.

It has to be stated however, this case does not necessarily pave the way for celebrities to bring proceedings or sue companies using their image without their permission. A celebrity wanting to control the use of their name or image must rely on some other cause of action such as infringement of copyright, breach of contract, breach of confidence or passing off.