Reed Smith wins High Court battle for Rihanna against Topshop

High street retailer Topshop has lost a High Court battle with international pop star Rihanna.

Rihanna, whose real name is Robyn Fenty, instructed Reed Smith to launch the claim after the retailer sold T-shirts bearing her image without permission. Reed Smith partner Michael Skrein instructed 8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC to lead the claim.

Martin Howe QC
Martin Howe QC

He faced One Essex Court’s Geoffrey Hobbs QC who was instructed by Mishcon de Reya partner Jeremy Hertzog to defend the claim for Topshop owner Arcadia Group.

Rihanna’s complaint was that the t-shirt was likely to deceive members of the public into believing that it was merchandise approved by her when it was not.

In his ruling Mr Justice Birss reiterated that the claim focused on passing off and that Rihanna’s complaint was that the t-shirt was likely to deceive members of the public into believing that it was merchandise approved by her when it was not.

The ruling stated: “The mere sale by a trader of a t-shirt bearing an image of a famous person is not, without more, an act of passing off. However the sale of this image of this person on this garment by this shop in these circumstances is a different matter. I find that Topshop’s sale of this Rihanna t-shirt without her approval was an act of passing off. I find for the claimants.”

According to Bristows there has been little authority from the courts on the rights of celebrities to protect their image in the UK.

Bristows senior associate Jeremy Blum said: “The judgment recognises the power of attraction a major celebrity has and the value of that power of attraction for the celebrity’s earning potential. The judgment confirms that in certain circumstances where there is a misrepresentation suggesting a celebrity authorises a product, when they do not, that famous person can prevent use of their image which is confirmation the celebrity industry will applaud.”

The legal lineup

For the claimant (1) Robyn Rihanna Fenty; (2) Roraj Trade (3) Combermere Entertainment Properties

8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC leading Hogarth Chambers’ Andrew Norris instructed by Reed Smith partner Michael Skrein

For the defendant (1) Arcadia Group Brands (T/A Topshop); (2) Topshop/Topman

One Essex Court’s Geoffrey Hobbs QC leading Hugo Cuddigan of 11 South Square instructed by Mishcon de Reya partner Jeremy Hertzog and solicitor Victoria Wilson