Rihanna Beats Topshop Again in Court Appeal

This ends a legal battle between the singer and the British retailer that kicked off in July 2013.
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Eliza Brooke
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This ends a legal battle between the singer and the British retailer that kicked off in July 2013.
#feelings. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

#feelings. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Call it a legal shutout. After Rihanna won a lawsuit against Topshop in July 2013 dealing with the use of her image on sleeveless tees, three British judges have again sided with the singer in an appeal filed in November by Topshop asking them to reconsider the ruling.

Representatives for Topshop and its parent company, Arcadia Group, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The whole thing started when Topshop decided to sell a tank printed with a paparazzi photo of Rihanna in Northern Ireland on the set of her "We Found Love" music video. The retailer had permission from the photographer but not the singer, so she sued, claiming that it was an infringement of her rights.

The question at the heart of the original case was whether it was an instance of "passing off," which Howard Hogan, a lawyer at Gibson Dunn who was not involved in the case but specializes in fashion law, explains as a UK application of what we call trademark infringement in the U.S. 

To prove that Topshop's sale of the tanks qualifies as passing off, Rihanna had to establish that she had a reputation among the public (duh), that people were deceived into thinking they were buying a shirt she authorized and that that misrepresentation would damage her reputation. In this case, "damage" could mean sales lost by her own merchandising business and a loss of control over her reputation in the fashion world.

The biggest point of contention was whether consumers were actually under the impression that Rihanna was behind the shirt, all 12,000 units of which sold out. But in the end, High Court judge Colin Birss decided they could be and called it for Rihanna. That's what Topshop's representatives were arguing against in their appeal.

So what does this double win mean for celebrities, who are subject to particularly aggressive paparazzi stalking and press exploitation in the UK?

"This is a helpful precedent for celebrities, but I would caution that it does not stand for the proposition that any use of a celebrity image is going to be found to be passing off," Hogan says. "It's very much unique to the facts of this case."