The Court of Appeal has upheld the legal claim filed by artist Rihanna
against Topshop owner Arcadia Group, after the group requested to overturn
the previous ruling in which the highstreet retailer was ordered to pay her
200,000 pounds in damages for using an unauthorised image of her on a
T-shirt, without her permission.

The UK Court has banned Topshop from selling the infamous T-shirts, which
featured an image of Rihanna taken in 2013, but the fashion retailer
appealed the injunction granted in Rihanna’s favour. The original ruling,
which has been handed down by High Court Judge, Justice Birss’s stated that
Topshop had fallen foul of “passing off” laws, and by selling the t-shirt
the high street retailer deceived customers into thinking that the artists
endorsed the garment, or that it had authorisation to copy her likeness,
which it did not. In fact, at the time Rihanna had recently signed an
exclusive agreement to design clothes for rival retailer, River Island and
had no personal connection to Topshop.

“Celebrity culture is so all-pervasive now. This judgment affirms the
principle that use of a celebrity’s image on a product could mislead the
public into believing that it is officially endorsed by that person,”
commented Arty Rajendra, Partner at IP law firm Rouse Legal. “It’s a
natural update of the law of passing off in the modern world – celebrity
merchandising rights are extremely valuable, and huge investment is often
made into cultivating and sustaining a particular image. It’s right that
unlicensed manufacturers should not be able to take advantage of that
investment and that customers are not deceived into thinking they are
buying ‘authorised’ products.”

Ben Mooneapillay, Partner and trade mark attorney at JA Kemp, specialising
in the fashion sector added: “This judgment does not mean that from now on
all merchandise bearing images of celebrities must have been approved by
the celebrities concerned. This case rests on a very specific set of facts.
Generally speaking, retailers can continue to sell goods bearing celebrity
images provided they have obtained permission from the person who owns the
copyright in the image. This particular image resonated with fans more than
other images of Rihanna as it was taken from a controversial music video
shoot. Rihanna’s previous association with Topshop also meant that
consumers may have more reason to believe that she was endorsing the
product. It was these facts that made Topshop’s sale of the product

“We may now see an increase in the number of celebrities challenging the
use of their image if they have previously been associated with the seller
of the merchandise. This is only likely to apply to large retailers who can
afford these celebrity associations, not market stall holders.”

If Topshop wishes to appeal again, Arcadia Group will have to seek
permission from the Supreme Court, not an easy task.

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