Law remains the same on image rights

11th February 2015

Pop star Rihanna hit the headlines when she won a £3million legal battle against Topshop who a judge said did not have the right to sell a T-shirt with her face on it.

Higgs & Sons commercial solicitor David Bayliss says the judgement was unusual.

"The case was a first for a celebrity successfully managing to claim 'passing off' in relation to an unauthorised use of their image on certain merchandise," David explains.

"In the UK, there is no image right law.  It is the person who takes the photograph that owns the copyright to that image, rather than the subject of the photograph.  Therefore, just because the image was of Rihanna, she didn't automatically have the right to stop it being used."

In the Topshop court case, the High Street chain used an image of Rihanna on one of their T-shirts that was taken during the filming of a video. Rihanna successfully won damages when she claimed the unauthorised image damaged her brand.

David added: "There were specific circumstances in this case that lead to Rihanna's successful judgment, including the fact that she had previously worked with Topshop and taken part in a number of promotions with the chain. This meant there was an increased chance of customers actually believing she had endorsed the t-shirt when she had not! 

"We have all seen clothing and other merchandise in market stalls and outside football grounds with images of celebrities or football players on them, but we don't assume that those celebrities or players have actually endorsed or approved the products - therefore there has been no 'passing off' or damage to that celebrity or player's brand."

David concluded that the case remained unusual because there has been no shift in the way the law treats images and copyright: "It seems that the specific facts in this case are the reason Rihanna was successful."

If you require any advice in relation to the use of images, copyright or Intellectual Property generally, contact David Bayliss at Higgs & Sons on 0345 111 5050. 

Higgs & Sons is based in the heart of the Black Country at the Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill. The growing team now boasts 100 plus specialist lawyers available to support clients in a comprehensive range of business and private sectors.


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