Can Anyone Use Your Image on their product? Rihanna v Topshop

Rihanna Topshop vest

Here lies an interesting case which will better aid your view of I.P issues.

This case involved an artist you can relate to; world famous pop star Rihanna aka “Riri”.

In this case cited as Robyn Rihanna Fenty & Others v Acardia [2013] EWHC 2310 (Ch), a well-known retailer: Topshop sold vests with the photographic image of Rihanna on the front. Rihanna argued that she had not given permission for such use thus the unauthorized use infringed her rights. Topshop on the other hand argued that they had got the license from the photographer to use the picture. What smack! Even worse and more ghastly, Rihanna argued that the image used on that particular vest was unflattering and we can imagine vile and utterly rank!

This is a classic trademark case of passing off where someone uses your, image logo or brand in their product and misleads others in the process to believe that the product is actually yours. This practice is highly rife in Africa as you can imagine. Only here, people  get away with it.

For a successful passing off case there had to be three elements: public goodwill and reputation to protect; complained action was a misrepresentation i.e. misleading others into buying the non-endorsed product; and that representation might damage her goodwill which arisefrom her status as a style symbolL having authorized products for fashion houses such as Gucci and Armani.

One of the witnesses working in Rihanna’s management team on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation testified that the product was likely to deceive the purchasers especially because of Rihanna’s previous relationship with the Topshop. Of greater importance is that Rihanna had visited the Topshop store, and they later tweeted that she had graced their London store, leading many to believe there was a link with the retailer and that she was considering connection with the brand.

Interestingly, the law in England thence was that one could not assume that a fashion image in public use was authorized for use by the relevant parties and that a connection to such a belief was irrelevant. Rihanna perceived as style icon by many females and fans would lead them to believe that any product with her image would be endorsed by her. The misrepresentation led to a ‘loss of control over her reputation in the fashion sphere’.

The judge found that even without the word Rihanna splayed across the vest apparels, a misrepresentation had still been made. Sales were lost to her merchandising business a result of this damaged goodwill.

The judge in this case found that Topshop had sold the products with unauthorized images of Rihanna and awarded some cold hard cash to Riri.

What does this mean to you?

It means that one day ‘if’ you become famous, the fact that your local kiosk uses your image on its bread and sweets, does not mean you should break the bank to sue it.  You will have missed the 3 critical elements of passing off discussed above. You would have to be supremely famous, have lots of money, have goodwill ‘capable’ of being damaged and which in fact deceived the public, for your claim to be remotely successful. That is a tall order.

If anything, I say any publicity is good publicity. How many people globally have Googled  Topshop?


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