Do Celebrities Abuse the Exploitation of Creativity in the Case of Law?

ROCKSTAR 101: an iconic song accompanied by one of Rihanna’s most darkest pieces of cinematography since Disturbia. Take a moment to open that video and within the first five-seconds you’ll be greeted by a neon ‘Rock Star’ installation embellishing RiRi’s signature Rated R logo; a fluorescent sign that blessed Miss Fenty with a lawsuit in 2014.

Decided Thursday by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, the case consisted of a claim by American artist James Clar who alleged the singer had duplicated his work in the creation of the neon fitting.

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James Clar, You & Me (2006)

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Rihanna, ROCKSTAR 101 (2012)

The court held in favour of Rihanna and dismissed Clar’s 2014 claim for copyright infringement alongside a refusal to award the damages Clar sought; a teeny weeny sum of €5 million. While it’s all perfect to consider Rihanna’s success here, it is imperative to note that the court also took steps to take adopt some neutrality in its decision, rejecting Fenty’s counterclaim for $100,000 in damages.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen RiRi in the legal sphere. The courts have previously ruled in her favour during her battle with Arcadia Group’s Topshop. During a suit that finished on appeal in 2015, the singer alleged and won that the use of her face on a tank top sold by Topshop amounted to a passing off of her brand and a loss of Rihanna’s reputation as an influencer in fashion.

Rihanna isn’t the only public figure who’s name has been dragged through the legal system. In 2013, Halle Berry opened a lawsuit against Toywatch for using her name and likeness to market their products. The defence attested that Berry had accepted a gift from Toywatch and then proceeded to imply receipt of a gift as consent to use her name and image in their campaigns. Of course, the “celebrity gift” defence failed but this only developed the relationship between public figures and the law. Berry in mind, a similar consensus had previously been adopted by the UK courts when Naomi Campbell won a case against Mirror Group Newspapers for her right to privacy when pictures of a private nature were published by the company.

However, perhaps the most interesting of all celebrity legal runs drags us back to contemporary issues. Anyone with an Instagram account is likely to have seen Selena Gomez viral photo of her drinking coke – a photo dubbed the most-liked photo of all time with a monumental 5.7 million likes. That said, with a speculation that the photo is an illegal ad a later alteration to the photo to suggest it is an ad, it will be interesting to observe any subsequent developments on this issue.

And yet, when do we presuppose that celebrities can use their fame as a double edged sword? Or should it be better said, what is the correct amount of “influence” a public figure needs to open a legal dispute for breach of privacy? With one stroke a celebrity enjoys the right to enjoy the exploitation of creativity and with another, they cut down the right for others to explore theirs. In the meantime, there is no feasible way of supposing what waits around the corner for celebrities’ and their ongoing battle in the legal sphere.

WORDS // MATTHEW HINCE