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Philadelphia Business Lawyers Discuss Pop Star’s Win in Passing Off Claim

Another win for pop-star Rihanna, as a UK Court of Appeals upheld an earlier court’s decision to prohibit a T-shirt maker from the unauthorized use of the singer’s image. The original lawsuit, filed by Rihanna in 2012, claimed that fashion retailer, Topshop, misrepresented the celebrity’s endorsement when it began selling t-shirts bearing her image. The shirts were printed with a photograph of Rihanna taken during a live video shoot for one of her albums. The picture was taken by an independent photographer who licensed its use to Topshop, but the singer never gave her consent. The court decided Topshop’s action amounted to “passing off” – illegally exploiting an unregistered trademark.

Generally, aside from privacy issues, there are few laws in the UK that protect celebrities from having their pictures published without their consent, such as there are in the U.S. Celebrities who wish to control the reproduction of their image must rely on some other cause of action, such as a breach of contract, infringement of copyright or, as in Rihanna’s case, passing off.

“Passing off” refers to a misrepresentation of endorsement. Topshop had made considerable efforts to emphasize its relationship with certain pop-stars, and with Rihanna in particular. The company created a contest in 2010 where the prize was a personal shopping appointment with Rihanna at Topshop. They also launched a significant publicity campaign around a visit the star made to the store in early 2012. In regard to the unauthorized t-shirts being sold by Topshop, Rihanna argued that buyers were likely to believe that the product was endorsed by her, and would purchase the shirt based on that false belief. Moreover, she argued that this would be damaging to her goodwill.

Throughout the world, Rihanna is regarded as a fashion icon. Her fashion activities include promoting Gucci and Armani clothing and designing clothes and endorsing products for River Island, as well as some previously authorized goods sold by Topshop. Rihanna’s reputation as a musical artist and style leader has earned her goodwill rights in not only the music industry, but in the fashion world as well. She argued that damage to her goodwill would lead to a decline in sales in her marketing business, and a loss of control over her reputation in the fashion industry. The court agreed and banned Topshop from selling the shirts without informing prospective buyers that the product had not been approved or authorized.

Philadelphia Business Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green Represent Clients in Cases of Intellectual Property and Trademark Infringement

Philadelphia commercial business lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green have experience handling complex litigation involving rights of publicity, as well as copyright and trademark disputes. Our office is located in Philadelphia and we represent clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To discuss your case with one of our highly qualified Philadelphia business lawyers, call 215-574-0600 today or contact us online.