It's like Clash of the Titans over here. Multimillionaire Rihanna is going head to head with Arcadia Group Ltd., the multinational London-based company that owns Topshop. In short, Topshop has been selling a t-shirt with Rihanna's face emblazoned on it; however, it's not official Rihanna-approved merchandise. And the singer is mad, claiming that unofficial Rihanna gear destroys her fans' emotional connection to their "heroine."
The t-shirt features a photo of Rihanna taken by a photographer during the filming of her "We Found Love" video, which was shot in Northern Ireland. At first, the shirt was sold as the "Rihanna Tank," but the singer's people complained, and Topshop changed the name first to "Headscarf Girl Tank" and then "Icon Tank."
Since a U.S.-based artist is suing a U.K.-based company, the laws are a bit tricky. In the U.K., the photographer owns the rights to the image, rather than the person in the image (i.e., Rihanna herself). But U.S. personality rights laws protect people from having their images commercially used without permission and/or compensation. And in the U.S., which is crawling with high-maintenance celebrities, there's a precedent for this kind of case: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman successfully sued Sephora for use of their image back in 2002, Kim Kardashian is suing Old Navy for using a model who looks just like her, and of course, a million lawsuits have been filed against everyone's favorite invasive pleasure, the tabloid.
Although the lawsuit is technically against Topshop, it seems that what's at stake here are artists' rights — both Rihanna's and the photographer's. The idea of someone using your image without permission is definitely creepy, but the right of photographers to sell their own work is also important.
A hearing was held Friday. The shirt is actually pretty cool, so stay tuned to find out who wins: the icon or the retailer.