Rihanna vs. Puma sneakers: an Instagram post with consequences

Published On: 06.March.2024Categories: Legal, Tech & E-Commerce2 min read
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Christina Schröder writes about legal topics for the Love & Law Blog at Recht 24/7.

Pop star on the wrong track: How Rihanna knocked out Puma’s design protection

In a world where an Instagram post can make or break a shoe designer’s career, Rihanna inadvertently plays the lead role in a legal thriller that has the fashion and legal worlds on the edge of their seats. The case: Can a photo on Instagram really cause a shoe design to lose its protection? The answer from the General Court of the European Union (EGC) was surprisingly clear.

A post with far-reaching consequences

It all began in 2014, when Rihanna, already a global icon at the time, showed off a pair of white Puma sneakers with a striking black sole. The pictures, which appeared on her Instagram account “badgalriri”, showed her signing a contract with Puma. What sounds harmless was to have far-reaching consequences. Puma wanted to register the design of these sneakers as protected two years later, in 2016. However, a Dutch company smelled a rat and demanded that the protection of the design be revoked – with success.

The law and the spirit of design

Under European law, designs can be protected if they are new and have their own characteristics. A design is considered new if it has not been made known to the public for twelve months prior to the application. This is the crux of the matter: Rihanna’s Instagram post made the shoe design public as early as 2014 – a fatal step for Puma’s claim to design protection.

Rihanna’s irresistible shoes

Puma tried to argue before the EGC that nobody had really taken any notice of the shoes at the time of the posts. But the court saw things differently. Given Rihanna’s status as a global celebrity in 2014, there was no question that her shoes attracted attention. The key features of the design were there for all to see, making it unquestionably available to the public.

What now, Puma?

The judgment of the EGC is a bombshell, but not yet the last word. Puma is free to take the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). But this case underlines a key insight: in the digital era we live in, even seemingly casual posts on social media can have legal consequences – a lesson that is not only important for the fashion industry.

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