Pop star Rihanna’s battle with fashion retailer Topshop has highlighted the pitfalls of businesses using images and other intellectual property without permission.
Litigation lawyer Charlotte Clode, who last year achieved success in a similar high profile case involving clothing chain Next, said all businesses should be aware of how easy it can be to fall foul of laws governing intellectual property.
Miss Clode, a solicitor with Shropshire law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, was commenting after the Court of Appeal in London upheld a ban on Topshop selling a sleeveless T-shirt that featured a photo of the singer without getting her permission.
In the first successful celebrity case of its kind, three appeal judges agreed that marketing the item without Rihanna’s approval amounted to “passing off”, which meant the unauthorised image was damaging to the star’s brand as people may believe she had endorsed the product.
Charlotte said the judges’ ruling in the Rihanna case illustrated the importance of brand protection.
“The judges felt that because of previous links with Topshop and the similarity of the shot to an album cover, it was deceiving to the public who may believe it was an official collaboration. The appeal judges were keen to stress that this was a stronger case than usual but it is still a salutary warning to anyone working in this field.
“In most cases, this type of action occurs because using an image in this way could suggest to the outside world that the brand, or celebrity in this case, are connected to the businesses, products or services using the image or content.”
Last year, Charlotte acted on behalf of a Welsh photographer in a case against Next. The photographer’s image of a stunt rider during the West Mid Show in Shrewsbury was taken from the internet and an altered version appeared on a T-shirt from the chain’s children’s range.
Charlotte added: “Businesses out there should take note – your intellectual property is a serious and valuable asset. You should make sure you get the protection available to you so that, should your reputation be taken advantage of in some way, you are in the best possible place to act against it.
“Although the points of law involved in the Next and Rihanna cases differ, they both serve as a warning to all businesses to ensure that they acquire the correct legal rights and clearances to use any image before committing designs to print,” she said.
“Otherwise it could end up costing them dearly in both monetary and reputational terms.”
FBC Manby Bowdler has offices in Shrewsbury, Telford and Bridgnorth as well as Wolverhampton and Willenhall.