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Rihanna case shows developments to passing off

2 August 2013

Rihanna has successfully sued Topshop in passing off for selling a t-shirt bearing her photograph.

There is no freestanding image right in England, so the claim was brought in passing off. Selling clothes bearing someone’s image is not itself passing off; there must be a false representation that a product is endorsed.

Other than the photo itself there’s nothing to suggest the t-shirt had any connection with Rihanna, and no evidence that anyone bought the t-shirt believing it was endorsed by Rihanna.

But because the photograph resembled an album’s publicity shots, fans could have associated the image with that marketing campaign, assuming the t-shirt was endorsed by Rihanna. Had Topshop used a photograph lacking these connotations, the result would probably have been different.

In the 1970s, this claim would probably have failed, and even today, a different judge could have come to a differing decision. This case shows a development of rights in an individual’s image, making it easier for celebrities to object to their image being used without permission.

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