A British judge ruled that the Topshop retail chain misled consumers by selling an unauthorized t-shirt bearing pop star Rihanna’s likeness, the AP reports.
Topshop began selling the shirt under the name “Rihanna Tank” in 2011. But after Rihanna sued last year, the shirt was rebranded as the “Headscarf Girl Tank” or “Icon Tank.”
High Court Justice Colin Birss’ ruling was far from a sure thing. In the UK, celebrities do not have an explicit right to their image. However, under certain situations, appropriators can be held liable for “passing off” their products as if they were endorsed by the celebrity’s brand.
The Guardian’s Paula Cocozza cites entertainment lawyer Mike Brookes who notes that the criteria for passing off require that the guilty party cause damages by misleading the public with the identity of a person with an established reputation. In this particular case, the fact that Rihanna promotes licensed clothing sold at a rival store was likely vital to the judge’s decision.
Topshop’s reputation as a big-name retailer also might have hurt its defense, as customers are more likely to assume that the shirt is official merchandise. “It’s not like being on Oxford Street and a bloke offering you one from out a suitcase,” Brookes comments.
Judge Birss has not yet awarded damages to Rihanna, however he did bar the sale of the shirt.