Victory to Rihanna! The beast that is capitalism lies defeated at her feet! Might even boost album sales! That righteous indignation can drive serious revenue growth over the coming quarters! Topshop, a clothing retailer, will not be selling anymore t-shirts bearing a certain photo of the singer because they’ve been warned off by the courts. As the purveyor of pop did not give her permission for the use of the image, to do so was against the law, so no dice, Topshop.

A photo of a face. I once heard that any publicity was good publicity. Apparently one is entitled to have control over reproductions of one’s likeness, which would be logically compelling but for the minor fact that such reproductions are by definition non-scarce. You can print t-shirt after t-shirt after t-shirt and sell them – at a hefty markup – and Rihanna’s actual face will become no less real, and suffer no health problems. So, since there is no logical basis for deciding the case in her favour, what reason is there?

Before the verdict ITV reported to the effect that the case has been a long time in coming to a conclusion. The article states the arcane reasoning behind the eventual verdict.

In the UK, celebrities have no legal right to control the use that is made of their image.

But if a product is marketed in such a way to incorrectly suggest they have approved it, then it can amount to “illegal passing off”.

Illegal passing off. Well then it’s fraud, right? Not so fast. Lying to a customer about the integrity of a product does constitute real fraud, and is then a subset of the broader cardinal category of crime called theft. But Topshop did no such thing. The t-shirts do not combust, they do not fray, and the image is completely genuine, so no claims about the integrity of the product were called into question by the court case. Instead the only lie or half-truth here is whether it had Rihanna’s permission.

Should that even matter? Why is passing something off illegal when the thing being passed off is merely a reproduction of an image, and thus unowned and non-scarce? To be clear, the image in question is easily available all over the internet. Methinks statist legal precedent means it’s a crime because there was a deception, and the thing the deception was built around – that photograph – is irrelevant to the final decision. It wouldn’t be the first time the finer points of a particular situation escape the statist eye.

It would have been ever so much fun to see the case found in Topshop’s favour, but I suppose expecting a court decision to uphold individual liberty and freedom to transact – not to mention the non-scarcity of a digital photograph – would be rather like expecting hungry crocodiles not to eat the infant wildebeest at the water’s edge. Remember folks, you don’t own your likeness as it is seen by others and remembered inside their minds, with the same being the case for reputation. So go easy on the ‘shop. They may not be poor, but they’ve been treated unfairly and deserved to be left to trade in peace.