As first reported last week, Rihanna is in the midst of a legal battle with British clothing brand Topshop, over the sale of a sleeveless t-shirt featuring her (allegedly unauthorized) image.
2. But, while the New York Post reported Rihanna sought $5 million from Topshop in damages, court documents reveal that’s not the case.
BuzzFeed Fashion has obtained all the court documents relating to the case, including Rihanna’s complaint and Topshop’s reply. Rihanna’s claim makes no mention of any set amount for damages. While Topshop’s and Rihanna’s legal teams were unavailable to comment for this story, British lawyers not working on the case explained that any damages granted would only be calculated after trial anyway — and only if Rihanna wins.
So get comfortable, there’s legalese coming up.
Topshop initially sold the product labeled as a “RIHANNA TANK.” After first receiving informal complaints from Rihanna’s team, the tee’s product title changed to “HEADSCARF GIRL TANK,” and later again to “ICON TANK.” Now, the tee is no longer for sale at Topshop under any name (though you might find it on eBay).
Rihanna was clearly quite unhappy about this. Along with two L.A.-based companies that retain her licensing rights and trademark, she filed an intellectual property claim against Topshop’s parent company Arcadia Group Brands Ltd. Filed by British legal firm Reed Smith, the case went before the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice in London on March 30th, 2012.
In the case, Ri-Ri’s lawyers begin by explaining her cultural significance. She’s one of the most well-known recording artists in the world, of course, but it’s entirely possible that an older British judge would have missed out on her hits…or, you know, changed the channel after catching a split-second of her “S&M” video because they assumed they’d accidentally turned on a pay-per-view porn channel. A fun fact in their explanation of her global superstar status:
The first claimant is known professionally by her middle name, RIHANNA, which is a unique spelling of the traditional Welsh name RHIANNON, also spelt RHIANNA and RIANNA, and is distinctive to the first claimant.
In their response to the claim, Topshop’s lawyers accept that Rihanna’s reputation “has generated a substantial amount of goodwill” in the field of music. (Though, interestingly, they dispute the name Rihanna itself is unique to her.)
Perhaps not actually having seen Battleship themselves, Rihanna’s lawyers also tout her acting cred, noting “excellent reviews being made of the first claimant’s services.” So actually, while the Hollywood Reporter said Rihanna seemed to be “having the most fun” in the film, Roger Ebert wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, “The film eventually comes down to lots of scenes in which things get ‘blowed up real good’… you get the feeling that Hasbro showed director Peter Berg some Michael Bay movies and told him to go and do likewise.” And the The New York Times accused Battleship of having “a plot as unambitious as a macaroni dinner, familiar and easy to eat and not particularly nutritious.”
She and the two companies co-filing the claim (Roraj Trade LLC and Combermere Entertainment Properties LLC) “police her image” closely, because she’s a big deal. The claim states they “carefully consider and select which images and likenesses can be authorised pursuant to the licensing regime set out above. The appearance of the first claimant in any authorised image is a matter of considerable importance.”
The complaint notes that the Arcadia Group had traded “fairly” with Rihanna’s trademarks — in 2009, Combermere Entertainment Properties (plaintiff #3) licensed authorised images of Rihanna to the Bravado Merchandising Group, which sold the images to Topman. Here’s one of those tees, featuring a print of Rihanna’s Loud album cover.
But the “RIHANNA TANK” sold at Topshop used an unauthorized paparazzi photo of Rihanna from the set of her “We Found Love” video, shot in Northern Ireland. The shot is of Rihanna from a fight scene with her on-screen boyfriend, when she storms out of the car, wanders around a bit with her arms folded, then gets back into the car. (It’s not quite as nuanced a performance as the aforementioned Battleship, if I may say.) Paparazzi photographers were rife during this music video’s filming. A selection of the images available on one photo agency’s site includes 21 shots from one single other scene, for example:
“The base image [on the “RIHANNA TANK”] is of such an unflattering nature that it would no be approved, and is inconsistent with the quality of appearance controlled by the claimants through the foregoing licensing regime,” the claim states.
Furthermore, “the production quality of the t-shirt is poor.” Basically, Rihanna hates it.
And it turns out this is a key point Topshop won’t stand for. In their response, the fast fashion brand’s lawyers refute this claim:
“It is denied that the RIHANNA TANK is of low quality. It is further denied that reviews on the defendant’s website have complained about the colouring of the image on the garment. There have as at the date of this Defence been 5 reviews left on the website which, so far as material, state as follows:
i ‘Overall it is a really lovely top and washes well, it is slightly more faded looking than the online picture but nonetheless still a very nice top.’
ii ‘The idea of it is lovely but also the pictures rather faded and less intense and bright as it may seem on the Internet.’
iii ‘It was good value for money and the picture is really good quality.’
iv ‘Wasn’t sure if it would look as good as it does online but it’s better!’
v ‘The picture of Rihanna on it is gorgeous too!’”
Internet reviews! Making/breaking contemporary lawsuits — who’d have thought it?!
Because Topman had sold authorized Rihanna merchandise previously, Rihanna’s lawyers then argue that consumers would also likely believe the unauthorized Topshop piece in question was official. They argue further that an article published online by The Telegraph in late February 2012 “sought to engender a [further official] connection” between Rihanna and the brand.
The article in question. Rihanna’s lawyers say “it can be inferred from the article that it was created as the result of a press release or other communication from the defendant.” (Topshop’s lawyers dispute this claim in their defense. We reached out to the piece’s author at The Telegraph for comment.)
Arcadia Group lawyers, London firm Mischon De Reya, who filed their defense two months after Rihanna’s team filed suit, dispute that Rihanna, Roraj Trade or Combermere Entertainment Properties have licensed either the name “Rihanna” or authorized images of Rihanna herself. They also dispute that such a license would be legal in the U.K. and provide a list of 72 other pieces of clothing featuring Rihanna’s face/image/likeness:
Above: a selection of tees all featuring RiRi.
(In a further response, Rihanna’s team break down the rights behind each and every image — either noting they come from authorised album covers, or photoshoots on which she “retains control” of the creative elements.)
Topshop’s team says “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 conclude there’s been no trademark, image or rights infringement.
The case will be heard at trial in mid-July. Four days have been allocated for hearings and deliberation, and a confirmed date for proceedings to begin will be announced on/by July 12th. It’s unclear if Rihanna will be present. But if she is, she should obviously wear this wig.
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