Rihanna, the singer beloved by many California fans for her hits like “Umbrella,” recently won a lawsuit against a British clothing chain that had unlawfully used her image.
The case is an interesting instance of intellectual property dispute, since it takes up the issue of who owns the rights to a picture — the person who took the picture, or the person in the picture.
The clothing chain involved, Topshop, had sold a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Rihanna from her “We Found Love” music video. The picture was taken by a paparazzo standing outside the set of her video shoot; it was not authorized or released by Rihanna’s management team.
When Rihanna’s legal team found out that Topshop was selling the shirt, called “Rihanna Tank,” it asked the company to stop. Topshop changed the name of the garment, first to “Headscarf Girl Tank” and then to “Icon Tank,” but it did not pull the shirt from shelves.
Because Topshop would not stop selling the item, Rihanna’s legal team sued its parent company, Arcadia Group Brands. Topshop argued that it had bought the picture from the papparazzo and so could use it. Just because Rihanna was in the picture, its legal team claimed, did not mean Topshop had to ask Rihanna’s permission to use it.
Rihanna’s legal team countered by arguing that Topshop customers would be misled into thinking the shirt was in some way endorsed by or affiliated with Rihanna.
In the end, a judge agreed with Rihanna’s legal team. Usually, the rights to a picture are owned by the individual who took the picture. This case was different, however, because Rihanna is a public figure who makes money off her image, and because there was a likelihood of consumer confusion.
We thought this case might be particularly interesting for us here in California because we have many entertainment professionals who make money and control their own brands by managing how, where, when and why their pictures are used.
Source: BuzzFeed, “Rihanna Wins Her Lawsuit Against Topshop Over ‘Unauthorized’ T-Shirt,” Alex Rees, July 31, 2013