Rihanna has won a legal battle against the British high-street retailer Topshop over the use of her image on their T-shirts.  Topshop gained rights to the image of Rihanna’s face from a photographer as well as an indemnity before putting the T-shirt on sale in stores.

The pop star sought action against Topshop’s parent company, Arcadia, for $5 million as she claimed that her rights had been infringed.  The photograph, which was taken during filming for her video in Northern Ireland, is said to be ‘very similar’ to the one used on the cover of her latest album.

Her lawyers told the court that many fans may have purchased the T-shirts in the belief that she had endorsed them personally, especially following rumours that Rihanna was to be the new face of Topshop.  Rihanna, however, recently launched her own line of clothing with River Island which includes T-shirts with her image on them.

Whilst Mr Justice Birss noted that there is ‘no such thing as a general right by a famous person to control the reproduction of their image’ this appears to be a unique case.  As the T-shirt was not ‘genuine’ merchandise, the judge felt that its sale left Rihanna with no control over the use of her image in the fashion sphere.

Topshop’s lawyers claimed that this was an attempt by the singer to establish a ‘free standing image right’ over all uses of her image in the UK and to gain control over how her character was marketed.

Although Rihanna technically has no control over her image, this T-shirt was seen as an act of passing off due to her individual reputation in the fashion industry and the similarity to her album cover.  This ruling creates questions about rights individuals have to their own image and reputation, especially when they are in the public eye.

Here at Farleys we have a dedicated sports and media team who have a wealth of experience in dealing with matters such as this. If you require any legal advice in relation to an image rights issue or a contractual dispute stemming from the use of your image, do not hesitate to contact us today to speak to one of our image rights lawyers who will be able to assist in this area.

By Daniel Draper, UK Media Lawyer