Pop star Rihanna wins legal battle with Britain's Topshop over image rights

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - Pop singer Rihanna on Thursday won her legal battle with British high street giant Topshop after it sold a T-shirt bearing her image without first requesting permission.

Three judges at London's Appeal Court upheld a ban on selling the garment after ruling that the clothing retailer had been "passing off" - using a personal image for marketing purposes without authorisation.

The image was a photograph taken by a freelance photographer in Northern Ireland while Rihanna was filming the music video. Topshop had a licence from the photographer to use the picture but no licence from Rihanna.

In 2013, High Court judge Colin Birss found in Rihanna's favour, concluding that some people would buy the item on the "false belief" that she had approved it.

Topshop appealed, with lawyer Geoffrey Hobbs arguing that the item was a "decorated T-shirt" similar to those featuring images of stars such as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

He also argued that it was wrong to assume "only a celebrity may ever market his or her own character".

All three Appeal Court judges dismissed the appeal, but experts explained that the ruling would not necessarily open the floodgates to similar claims.

"The court was very keen to stress that there were specific facts that made Rihanna's case stronger than usual," copyright lawyer Paul Joseph told the BBC.

These included photographs being spread on social media showing the singer wearing Topshop clothes, suggesting there was an official collaboration.

In Britain, celebrities do not own the rights to their image, but companies using an image without permission can face legal action.

"In this case, both the Court of Appeal and High Court were at pains to spell out that it is not an infringement just to use someone else's image, but that on the facts of the case they both agreed that the circumstances surrounding the image's use on the T-shirt meant there was a false misrepresentation leading to passing-off," said intellectual property lawyer Jeremy Blum from law firm Bristows in a statement.