After more than a year of litigation, a London judge ruled today that Topshop did not have the right to use Rihanna’s name and image on the “Rihanna tank,” which was sold in 2011 and early 2012. From the Telegraph:
[The judge] said Topshop’s sale of a Rihanna T-shirt had been an act of “passing off”, and that a “substantial number” of customers were likely to have bought the T-shirt of a “false belief” that it had been authorised by the singer.
The judge added that was damaging to her “goodwill” and represented a loss of control of her reputation in the “fashion sphere”.
This ruling comes as a surprise: Topshop initially disputed the lawsuit, explaining that they’d bought the rights to the image fair and square from the photographer who took it. According to British law, if a brand owns an image of an artist, they are free to use it without paying the artist any licensing fees. In other words, Topshop had a legal basis for selling those tank tops. (The law in the U.S. is different, but the shirts were only sold in the U.K.)
The image in question was taken by an unnamed freelance photographer on the set of Rihanna’s controversial “We Found Love” video, which was filmed in Belfast and Bangor in Ireland in 2011. Although Rihanna reportedly sued Topshop for $5 million, the judge has not specified damages yet.
Anyway, what does this ruling mean for Peter Fonda’s lawsuit against Dolce & Gabbana over those $295 Easy Rider T-shirts? Maybe Dolce & Gabbana should make sure they have the rights to these pictures of Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali, while they’re at it. The profit margin of $325 T-shirts must be high, but even that can’t cover all the legal fees they’ve racked up lately.