In 2011 the pop star Rihanna had to curtail a photoshoot on a farm in Northern Ireland when the owner of the farm, Alan Graham, wasn’t impressed by her “inappropriate state of undress”  and ordered her off the farm and to become “acquainted with God”.  Well we don’t know whether Rihanna heeded the farmers advice but we do know that she has been awarded £3 million pounds in damages for the misuse of a photograph, apparently taken of her while on that trip.  The photographer must have thought he had hit the big time when he gave UK retailer Topshop  permission to use the photograph which Topshop proceeded to print on T-Shirts. Rihanna sued Topshop’s parent company for the unauthorised use of the photograph and image and was successful.

The High Court agreed with Rihanna that a “substantial number” of buyers was likely to have bought the T-shirt because of a “false belief” it had been approved by the singer.  The judge was influenced by two factors. Firstly, the image showed Rihanna wearing the same clothes that she wore in the video for her ‘We Found Love’  hit single. Secondly, the fact that it was Topshop, which has a reputation for associating fashion with celebrities, meant that there was more likely to be confusion than if the T-Shirt had been sold in a different type of outlet and thus found that Topshop was guilty of passing off.

Topshop said it was “surprised, disappointed and perplexed” by the High Court decision. “There was no intention to create an appearance of an endorsement or promotion,” it said. “We feel that the fact that Rihanna has shopped, worn and had a relationship with Topshop for several years appears to have been detrimental to our case.”  Topshop is said to be considering an appeal.

Carla MacLachlan