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A Three-Way Lawsuit Over Nirvana’s Smiley Face Logo Has Ended

A Three-Way Lawsuit Over Nirvana’s Smiley Face Logo Has Ended

A complicated years-long three-way lawsuit involving Nirvana‘s famous smiley face logo has now been quietly settled out of court.

The band sued Marc Jacobs in 2018, claiming the fashion designer infringed on their copyright with a T-shirt from the so-called Bootleg Redux Grunge collection that mimicked the image. Instead of X’d out eyes, however, Jacob’s shirt featured the letters M and J. The word “Nirvana” over the face was replaced by “Heaven” in a similar font.

Nirvana’s lawyers argued back then that use of the image was “intentional” in order to “associate the entire ‘Bootleg Redux Grunge’ collection with Nirvana, one of the founders of the ‘grunge’ musical genre, so as to make the ‘grunge’ association with the collection more authentic.”

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Late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was said to have created the original logo. Jacobs countersued in 2019, asserting that its creator was unknown. His lawsuit highlighted remarks from earlier depositions in which Cobain’s surviving bandmates admitted they were unsure who came up with the smiley face.

Jacobs’ lawyers said that “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.”

How a Third Party Got Involved

Then Robert Fisher, the former art director from Nirvana’s record label, entered the legal fray. He filed his own lawsuit claiming ownership earlier this year. “For 30 years now, Nirvana has reaped enormous profits from Mr. Fisher’s works through the sale of a wide range of products,” Fisher’s attorneys said. “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.”

The three parties have now agreed to a “mediator’s proposal” submitted by Magistrate Judge Steve Kim. Other details about the settlement weren’t discussed in the latest joint court filing. Lawyers for Nirvana, Fisher and Jacobs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A finalized agreement is expected in the next few weeks.

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Gallery Credit: Taylor Linzinmeir