This is not child protection at all, and a solid 80% of what follows is nonsense, but it is all based on a commercial law case called Fenty and Others v Arcadia Group 2015 just decided in the Court of Appeal. (the case is really Rihanna v Topshop, but that’s the formal name – Fenty is Rihanna’s surname, and Arcadia own Topshop)
This is the original judgment
and this is the appeal
Quickly, because this might confuse older readers, younger readers and No-Telly Neville. Rihanna is a current pop star, with a substantial batch of hit songs and is also a fashion icon for young people – she is cool. The Wombles are a group of fictional furry creatures who live on Wimbledon common and who make good use of the things that they find, things that the everyday folks leave behind. They pick up rubbish.
[Note that use of any image of the Wombles or Rihanna does not imply that either of them endorse the Suesspicious Minds website – but let’s be honest, we all know that if they want to find out information about family law in the UK, they don’t go anywhere ELSE to find it]
You are probably asking yourself at this point, how the Wombles and Rihanna come together in the English Courts – and possibly also whether there is a musical collaboration in the offing. I will relate to you, how their histories enweave.
The case was about Topshop selling a T-shirt with a photographic image of Rihanna, and Rihanna suing them.
The Court of Appeal point out quickly that in England, unlike America, there is no such thing as “image rights” – Rihanna, as a celebrity, does not own the copyright in her image or photograph or appearance. The copyright lies with the creator of the photograph, who had consented to its use.
The case was, instead, dealt with under the umbrella-ella-ella of “passing off”
the law of passing off is not designed to protect a person against fair competition. Nor does it protect a person against the sale by others of the same goods or even copied goods. What it protects is goodwill and it prevents one person passing off his goods or services as those of another. As Lord Oliver of Aylmerton explained in Reckitt & Colman Products Ltd v Borden Inc & Ors  RPC 341 at page 406, a claimant must establish three elements in order to succeed in such a claim. First, he must establish a goodwill or reputation attached to the goods or services which he supplies in the mind of the purchasing public by association with the particular name or get up under which the goods or services are offered to the public, such that the name or get up is recognised by the public as distinctive of the claimant’s goods or services. Second, he must demonstrate a misrepresentation by the defendant to the public leading or likely to lead the public to believe that the goods or services offered by him are the goods or services of the claimant. Third, he must demonstrate that he suffers or, in a quia timet action that he is likely to suffer, damage by reason of the erroneous belief engendered by the defendant’s misrepresentation that the source of the defendant’s goods or services is the same as the source of those offered by the claimant.
For this case, Rihanna would have to show that :-
- She has a degree of goodwill in her name and reputation, particularly in fashion
- That Topshop had led the public to believe that the T-shirt was a Rihanna product in some way
- That she suffers loss or potential loss as a result of people believing that this was an official or endorsed product.
Would she win, or would Topshop be able to say that Rihanna had found love, and a hopeless case?
The judgment is worth reading – the original trial Judge had been very switched on and in touch in relation to Rihanna, celebrity culture, young people, viral marketing and fashion, including that the item Rihanna was wearing on the unauthorised T-shirt being a “bralet” – and resisted, where I would have not, of saying it was a bralet for a starlet.
This was his original conclusion
There followed an overall evaluation by the judge of the various findings which he had made up to this point. He considered that the fact that the t-shirt was a fashion garment and the further fact that it was on sale in a high street retailer did not assist one side or the other. However, the nature of the image itself was a fairly strong indication that the t-shirt might be authorised and approved by Rihanna herself. So also, the public links between Topshop and famous stars in general and, more importantly, Rihanna in particular, would enhance the risk of consumers believing the garment had been authorised by her. He recognised that the fact that neither the swing tag nor the neck label carried the Rihanna name or the R slash logo pointed against authorisation but, in his view, this was not sufficient to negate the contrary impression. He summarised the position this way:
“72. … Although I accept that a good number of purchasers will buy the t-shirt without giving the question of authorisation any thought at all, in my judgment a substantial portion of those considering the product will be induced to think it is a garment authorised by the artist. The persons who do this will be the Rihanna fans. They will recognise or think they recognise the particular image of Rihanna, not simply as a picture of the artist, but as a particular picture of her associated with a particular context, the recent Talk That Talk album. For those persons the idea that it is authorised will be part of what motivates them to buy the product. I am quite satisfied that many fans of Rihanna regard her endorsement as important. She is their style icon. Many will buy a product because they think she has approved of it. Others will wish to buy it because of the value of the perceived authorisation itself. In both cases they will have been deceived.”
Finally, the judge dealt with damage. He considered that if, as he believed to be the case, a substantial number of consumers were likely to be deceived into buying the t-shirt because of a false belief that it had been authorised by Rihanna then that would obviously damage her goodwill. It would result in a loss of sales to her merchandising business and also represent a loss of control over her reputation in the fashion sphere. It was, he thought, for her to choose which garments she endorsed. In all the circumstances, Topshop’s sale of the t-shirt without her approval amounted to passing off.
I enjoyed the detail that Topshop had commissioned some market research prior to the trial, getting people to look at the T-shirt and comment as to whether they thought it was an official piece of Rihanna merchandise. They called the author of that research.
Sadly, as she was a trainee solicitor working at the firm representing Topshop, one might think that she wasn’t the most impartial witness ever to take the stand. I think the Judge was very kind about that
Mrs Armstrong is a trainee solicitor in the defendants’ solicitors currently seconded to the legal team at Arcadia, the parent group of the defendants. She gave evidence of efforts she had undertaken to find out if Topshop staff were aware of any feedback from customers concerning the t-shirt. She was a good witness but I am not satisfied the exercise Mrs Armstrong described was sufficiently rigorous to establish the proposition advanced, that there had been no comments or relevant feedback relating to the product.
But where, Suesspicious Minds are the Wombles? Do not worry, I am about to go with the Orinoco Flow
In the original judgment, there are a number of legal authorities referred to. Two stood out for me
In the 1970s there were a number of cases in which merchandising rights were not found to exist before the English courts. These included Tavener Rutledge v Trexapalm (Kojak Lollipops, the “unauthorised” local lollipop retailer succeeded against the makers of the television program)  RPC 275
[I remember those Kojak lollipops! Also this story reminded me that when I was eight and a barber asked me how I wanted my hair cut (the only acceptable answers at the time being “short back and sides” or “just a little bit shorter all over”) I instead said “Well, I like the police, and I like lollipops, but I don’t want to look like Kojak” – this being the first time I wrote my own material rather than relying on the Big Daddy bumper joke book. Note for Neville, Kojak was a TV detective in the 70s who had two gimmicks – he was bald, and he sucked lollipops. He also had a catchphrase, see next gag]
For God’s sake, Suesspicious Minds, I hear you cry. I did not start reading an article called “Rihanna, who loves you baby?” – where the chuff are the Wombles?
The next merchandising authority where a celebrity was used to endorse a product without that celeb’s permission was this:-
Wombles v Womble Skip Hire (skips for collecting rubbish branded Womble, injunction refused)  FSR 488
[It is beyond the scope of this article, but the case that altered the Wombles precedent involved Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. I am SERIOUSLY thinking about becoming a lawyer specialising in “passing off” cases if I would get to bring Kojak, Wombles and Ninja Turtles to Court in my bundle of authorities]
I can’t really think about Wombles v Womble Skip Hire without envisaging the actual real wombles becoming outraged and sitting in a solicitors waiting room and bringing the case. Orinco sat behind counsel with his nose in a bowl of porridge, Tobermory with a pencil behind his ear rebuilding the witness box and Madame Cholet checking out the RCJ cafeteria. Or a procession of them walking purposefully down the hallways (possibly with a Womble cover version of “Little Green Bag” playing in the background)
But even better, in my mind, is that at some point, Rihanna’s legal team had to tell her that there was a case that would help in her litigation and that it is about Wombles. And them having to explain to Rihanna what a womble is. For some reason in my imagination, Rihanna’s lawyer sounds like a New York wise-guy (which he or she absolutely is not, in real life, in any way, and this should not be construed as any suggestion that they are anything other than amazing human beings)
“So, they’re like sort of bears, see, but they wear clothes and hats. And they have snouts, and they have bright black shiny noses and one of them eats porridge and falls asleep – like all the time. That one is Orinoco, see? And the main man, he’s Great Uncle Bulgaria, and he sends his crew out every day to find a copy of the Times for him. They all live in a burrow, and the burrow is wallpapered with old newspapers. And they have a French chef, and she’s a womble too – they call her Madame Cholet. You know the Smurfs, right? Like smurfs, only not. Both have an old man leader, and only one girl. But wombles, they ain’t blue “
“Are you billing me for this?”
Rihanna wins the Court of Appeal case, just as the Wombles won their own case about protecting other people using their image to sell unauthorised products. So Rihanna, you’re a womble.