The singer Rihanna won her legal battle with billionaire businessman Philip Green when the High Court ruled that Topshop had duped customers into buying unauthorised T-shirts bearing her image.
In a case with millions of pounds in damages and legal costs at stake, Mr Justice Birss found that the company had “passed off” the T-shirts as being authorised by the singer, imperilling her reputation.
The dispute centred around the sale of a shirt showing a photograph of Rihanna taken during a video shoot for her “We Found Love” hit single in 2011. The offending garment, which went on sale in March last year, was initially promoted as the “Rihanna Tank” before Topshop dropped the mention of the singer. But it continued selling the top until it sold out last August.
The singer, who has an exclusive deal to design clothing for Topshop’s rival River Island, along with two Los Angeles companies, took the action against Arcadia Group Brands Ltd and Topshop. Mr Justice Birss, who dubbed Rihanna a “world famous pop star” with a “cool, edgy image”, ruled in her favour at a hearing in London. A “substantial number” of buyers were likely to have been “deceived” into buying the T-shirt because of a “false belief” that it had been authorised by Rihanna, he said.
He ruled that the “goodwill” of people towards the singer had been damaged, that her merchandising business had lost sales, and the singer had suffered a “loss of control over her reputation in the fashion sphere”.
But the singer still has a fight on her hands, with the fashion chain now planning an appeal. In a statement, Topshop said: “We robustly dispute the judge’s conclusion.”
The company added that it was “surprised and disappointed” at the decision. But the judge warned that the ruling should not be taken as a signal for a flurry of legal actions from celebrities.
“This case is not concerned with so-called ‘image rights’... however much various celebrities may wish there were, there is no general right by a famous person to control the reproduction of their image,” he said.