1. Topshop started selling this lovely sleeveless tee last spring, in stores and online.
Online, the shirt was originally sold labeled as the “RIHANNA TANK.” Following complaints from Rihanna’s people, however, its name changed twice — to “HEADSCARF GIRL TANK,” and then again to “ICON TANK.”
The flattery didn’t work, and lawyers working for Rihanna filed an intellectual property case against the retailer’s parent company Arcadia Group Brands on March 30 of last year.
2. Topshop had bought the rights to the photo used not from Rihanna, but from a paparazzi photographer who’d taken shots of her during filming of the “We Found Love” music video.
Rihanna’s lawyers said this move represented an infringement of her license and brand — one that would fool giddy Topshop shoppers into thinking they were buying official merchandise when that wasn’t the case. They also said the T-shirt was of poor quality in general, basically, and not an image Rihanna would have approved.
For the defense, Topshop’s disagreed. (Naturally.) Their key point was that “the photograph from which the [tee’s] image was derived was taken in a public place where the first claimant had no expectation of privacy.” Within the current British legal system, they said, the image and usage thereof didn’t constitute trademark, image, license, or rights infringement. (They also said the T-shirt was very nice and of a good quality after all, thanks very much — and pointed out that Rihanna still wears Topshop clothes herself.)
3. But at London’s High Court today, Justice Colin Birss sided with Team RiRi.
In a judgement released this morning, his decision read, “A substantial number of purchasers are likely to [have been] deceived into buying [the “RIHANNA TANK” under that name or others] because of a false belief that it has been authorised by Rihanna.”
In turn, Justice Birss ruled, this damaged Rihanna’s reputation and represented a loss of her ability to control the use of her image within the fashion industry. Crucially, he concluded that solely it’s for Rihanna (and her management team) to decide what products are/are not endorsed by her — not Topshop or any other garment retailer. This is a decision with potentially wide-ranging implications for the fast-fashion industry and its predilection for celeb-covered tees and other clothing.
4. With her victory, Rihanna is likely to be awarded damages.
Despite much tabloid speculation, no specific figure was requested by her legal team — that’s just not how the British legal system works. Now that Justice Birss has ruled for her, however, he will determine what (if any) money the Arcadia Group will have to pay out. This information will be released at a later date, also pending any appeals. It may even be possible that Topshop could just give her a ton of in-store credit, but that’s probably most unlikely. Shame.