Rihanna prevents Topshop bringing her under its 'Umbrella’

In the first successful celebrity case of its kind, the Court of Appeal has ruled against Topshop’s printing of a photo of Rihanna on one of their t-shirts without her permission.

By John Pickervance, solicitor, business law, Forbes Solicitors.

This is an important judgement as it relates to local businesses of all shapes and sizes and should not just be seen as bolstering celebrity rights.

In an important ruling on the use of “image rights” and trademarks in general, three judges unanimously dismissed Topshop’s appeal agreeing that marketing items using Rihanna’s image rights without her approval, amounted to “passing off” and therefore infringed Rihanna’s intellectual property rights.

“Passing Off” refers to the unauthorised use of an image such that an innocent third party may be confused as to its origin. Rihanna’s lawyers said the image was from an unauthorised photograph taken while the star was filming a video in Northern Ireland and its use on the t-shirt gave the impression that Rihanna had endorsed its use.

The judges agreed that a substantial number of Rihanna’s fans were likely to be led into the false belief that she had authorised the t-shirt to carry her image.

Whilst the ruling should not be seen as a watershed moment and the specific facts of each case needing to be taken into account to determine whether trademark infringement has taken place, it does demonstrate that businesses have remedies available to them to protect their brand. The Court was very keen to stress that there were specific facts that made Rihanna’s case stronger than normal however and Forbes would always advise that businesses look to register their intellectual property to ensure that it is protected to the greatest extent possible.