Rihanna won her legal fight against Topshop over the Brit fast fashion giant selling t-shirts bearing her image without her authorization. In a somewhat unprecedented ruling in the UK, Mr Justice Birss ruled in favor of the singer in the High Court today, holding that Topshop's sale of the "Rihanna T-shirt" constitutes an act of "passing off." As a result, Birss stated in a written decision that a "substantial number" of customers were likely to have bought the t-shirt of a "false belief" that it had been endorsed by the singer. He also stated that the t-shirt was damaging to her "goodwill" and represented a loss of control of her reputation in the "fashion sphere." Justice Birss has not awarded any damages to the singer yet, as that is a matter for another hearing to follow.
Rihanna and her New York-based IP rights companies, Roraj Trade and Combermere Entertainment Properties, filed suit in London's High Court in March 2012, alleging that "an unknown quantity of t-shirts were acquired by Topshop in 2011 and early 2012 and offered for sale under the name 'Rihanna Tank.'" The singer reportedly spent eight months and nearly $1 million on legal fees seeking compensation for Topshop's use of her image and the discontinuation of the shirts after Topshop offered her $5,000 to go away when she initially threatened legal action about the tee shirt.
A spokesman for Topshop, which is already in talks to appeal the ruling, said: The retailer is "surprised and disappointed in the ruling" as there "was no evidence of consumer confusion to support the Judge's conclusion" (consumer confusion is a key standard that must be met in trademark infringement cases in the U.S.). The ruling in this case is significant and somewhat unexpected because the law governing image/publicity rights in the U.K. does not mirror the strong publicity rights of celebrities in the U.S., and thus, the outcome of the case will certainly set a new precedent for future cases where a star's association with a brand is implied by their name or face being used unwillingly.