Rihanna v Topshop

Under current copyright law in the United Kingdom, the copyright of a photo goes to the photographer. An image or persona of a person cannot be subject to copyright, thus if a photographer takes an image of a person (assuming it does not violate their privacy), they are able to sell or licence the copyright of the photo for profit. This leaves celebrities in a slightly unenviable position. If they are in a public place, and a photo of them is taken, the future of the photograph is simply out of their hands. However, the recent ruling in the dispute between Rihanna and Topshop may result in a loophole which limits the freedom of copyright holders.

Topshop, a leading clothing chain in the United Kingdom, released a shirt with a photo of Rihanna. Rihanna sought to stop the circulation of the product to protect her image. However, because of the limitations of copyright law within the UK, she had to find another legal alternative. During the hearing Rihanna’s counsel relied on the tort of passing off; submitting to the High court of Justice that the conduct of the product was misrepresented by Topshop as having her approval, and that this misrepresentation significantly damages her goodwill amongst the members of the public. Justice Birss, gave the leading judgement and ruled in favour of Rihanna.

The ruling in this dispute will be of some significance. At the risk of sounding cynical towards modern day society: we live in an era where celebrities often adopt hyperbolised personas to garner more fame. Arguably, these personas could be considered as the intellectual property of celebrities. Whether or not this form of IP does, or should under a category of copyright protection is debateable, however one could argue that as intellectual property they merit some protection from infringement.

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