LONDON — Rihanna has won a court case in the U.K. against Topshop for selling a T-shirt emblazoned with the pop star’s face.
The T-shirt was on sale at Topshop at the end of last year and bore an image of Rihanna from her “We Found Love” music video.
This story first appeared in the August 1, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A judge at Her Majesty’s High Court said in a written statement on Wednesday that a “substantial number” of Topshop customers were likely to have “false belief” that the merchandise was authorized by the singer.
The sale of the T-shirt, the judge said, was damaging to her “goodwill” and represented a loss of control over her reputation in the “fashion sphere.”
The judge, Mr Justice Birss, said, “Although I accept that a good number of purchasers will buy the T-shirt without giving the question of authorization any thought at all, in my judgment a substantial portion of those considering the product will be induced to think it is a garment authorized by the artist.
“The persons who do this will be the Rihanna fans. They will recognize or think they recognize the particular image of Rihanna, not simply as a picture of the artist, but as a particular picture of her associated with a particular context, the recent ‘Talk That Talk’ album.
“For those persons, the idea that it is authorized will be part of what motivates them to buy the product. I am quite satisfied that many fans of Rihanna regard her endorsement as important. She is their style icon. Many will buy a product because they think she has approved of it.
“Others will wish to buy it because of the value of the perceived authorization itself. In both cases they will have been deceived. This would clearly be damaging to Rihanna’s goodwill.”
The judge, however, did not make an assessment of damages on Wednesday. According to court documents, the total value of Rihanna’s claim is stated be above 15,000 pounds, or $22,954 at current exchange.
“The judgment speaks for itself,” said Michael Skrein, senior media litigation partner at Reed Smith, which represented Rihanna in the matter and which declined to make any further comment.
Topshop said it was “surprised and disappointed by the judgment handed down today,” adding that it would “robustly dispute the judge’s decision” and consider all options available, including an appeal.
“We feel that the fact that Rihanna has shopped, worn and had a relationship with Topshop for several years appears to have been detrimental to our case. There was no intention by Topshop to create the appearance of an endorsement or promotion,” it added.
In the U.K., the law says that anyone who legally purchases an image — even of a celebrity — can use it. In the U.S., the celebrity needs to be paid royalties on sales.
Rihanna is currently collaborating with one of Topshop’s British competitors, River Island, on a 120-piece collection for spring featuring sexy crop tops, hooded jumpsuits and skirts with high slits.
It is sold through the retailer and exclusively in the U.S. and Japan at Opening Ceremony.