Topshop banned from selling Rihanna tees

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Pop singer Rihanna won her legal battle with British high-street giant Topshop on Thursday after it sold a T-shirt bearing her image without first requesting permission.

Three judges at London's Appeal Court upheld a ban on selling the garment after ruling that the clothing retailer had been "passing off" - using a personal image for marketing purposes without authorisation.

Rihanna, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, had reportedly sued for US$5 million (S$6.66 million), although that figure was not mentioned in the written judgment.

The 26-year-old Barbadian singer, who has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide, had sued Topshop's parent company Arcadia for the sleeveless T-shirt featuring a picture taken during the filming of a 2011 video.

The image was a photograph taken by a freelance photographer in Northern Ireland while Rihanna was filming the music video.

While Arcadia Group, owned by billionaire Philip Green, had a licence from the photographer to use the image, it did not have one from the singer and Rihanna's lawyers argued that customers would have been deceived into thinking that the T-shirt had been approved by her.

"There is a lucrative market for celebrity endorsed goods and provided the public considers the product with a celebrity image is 'official' and is authorised by that celebrity, the celebrity will be able to protect (the) use of their image," said Mr Jeremy Blum, an intellectual property lawyer at law firm Bristows, who was not involved in the litigation.

The Court of Appeal turned down Arcadia's request to appeal its decision.

In 2013, High Court judge Colin Birss found in Rihanna's favour, concluding that some people would buy the item in the "false belief" that she had approved it.

Topshop appealed, with lawyer Geoffrey Hobbs arguing that the item was a "decorated T-shirt" similar to those featuring images of stars such as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

He also argued that it was wrong to assume "only a celebrity may ever market his or her own character".

All three Appeal Court judges dismissed the appeal, but experts explained that the ruling would not necessarily open the floodgates to similar claims.

"The court was very keen to stress that there were specific facts that made Rihanna's case stronger than usual," copyright lawyer Paul Joseph told the BBC.

These included photographs being spread on social media showing the singer wearing Topshop clothes, suggesting there was an official collaboration.

In Britain, celebrities do not own the rights to their image, but companies using an image without permission can face legal action.

"In this case, both the Court of Appeal and High Court were at pains to spell out that it is not an infringement just to use someone else's image, but that on the facts of the case, they both agreed that the circumstances surrounding the image's use on the T-shirt meant there was a false misrepresentation leading to passing off," said Mr Blum in a statement.

 
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