Nirvana’s lawsuit over smiley face logo reaches conclusion

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Legendary rock band Nirvana have settled a lawsuit lodged against fashion house Marc Jacobs over the use of their smiley face logo.

The copyright case began in 2018 when Nirvana sued Marc Jacobs after the fashion designer were alleged to have used the band’s iconic logo on a t-shirt released as part of their ‘Bootleg Redux Grunge’. However, there were small differences in the two designs, with the clothing item featuring ‘M’ and ‘J’ for eyes rather than the letter ‘X’. Additionally, it featured the word ‘Heaven’ rather than Nirvana, albeit in similar fonts.

In the initial legal document, Nirvana described the Marc Jacobs design as “oppressive, fraudulent, and malicious”. The complaint also said it caused “irreparable injuries” and “threaten[s] to dilute the value of Nirvana’s licenses with its licensees for clothing products.”

While Marc Jacobs didn’t deny the intentional similarities in the two designs, they claimed it was fair usage because the creator of the Nirvana logo was unknown. They said in 2019: “The apparent absence of any living person with first-hand knowledge of the creation of the allegedly copyrighted work in question, coupled with numerous other deficiencies in the 166 Registration that is the basis for Nirvana’s infringement claim are the basis for the counterclaim asserted.”

In a turn of events, Robert Fisher, a former director of art at Geffen Records, filed a suit himself, claiming that it was him who designed the smiley face logo and that it wasn’t a creation of the late Kurt Cobain as many assumed.

Fisher, who created the album cover for the band’s seminal album Nevermind, said he was the “go-to person for almost all of [Nirvana’s] graphic design needs” upon filing a legal notion in 2020.

The designer later said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “Since I drew it, I want to be known as the guy that drew it. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s fair that they try and take out a copyright and say Kurt did it”.

Meanwhile, Fisher’s lawyer told Billboard, “For 30 years now, Nirvana has reaped enormous profits from Mr. Fisher’s works through the sale of a wide range of products. Assisted by a team of lawyers and managers, Nirvana was able to do so without any compensation to Mr. Fisher by falsely claiming authorship and ownership.”

Six years after the legal case began, a settlement was reached between the three parties over the complicated copyright lawsuit on July 9th. At this stage, the details of the agreement have yet to be released, but they have all signed up to a ‘Mediators Proposal’ brought forward by magistrate, Steve Kim. The official settlement agreement is currently being drafted and expected to reach completion by the end of July.

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