May 13, 2019
As reported by Dazed Digital, at the end of 2018, 90’s rock band Nirvana filed a lawsuit against designer Marc Jacobs in California Federal Court. The band alleged copyright and trademark infringement in regards to the designer’s use of Nirvana’s iconic smiley face logo in his recent clothing line.
Jacobs, once hailed as the “guru of grunge”, incorporated a smiley face similar to that used by Nirvana into his perhaps ironically named “Bootleg Redux Grunge” SS93 collection. The collection is an ode to one originally launched while working for Perry Ellis in 1993 and includes new socks, shirts and sweaters bearing a smiley face with “M” and “J” in place of “Xs” for eyes, and “HEAVEN” written across the top in place of “NIRVANA”. The colours and font used by Jacobs’ are the same as those used in Nirvana’s logo. While certain brands, such as Target and Urban Outfitters, have authorization to use the mark, Jacobs allegedly did not receive such authorization.
The original smiley face was said to have been drawn by Kurt Cobain as part of the promotional materials for the band’s album, Nevermind. However, despite obtaining copyright registration, Nirvana never registered the mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Instead, at paragraph 33 of its complaint, Nirvana states that it “enjoys common law trademark rights…which rights are superior to any rights that Defendants may claim in and to that trademark…”.
Nirvana LLC — the legal entity formed in September 1997 by Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and the Courtney Love-controlled Cobain estate — is seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief against Jacobs, whose legal team has recently filed for a dismissal of the suit. At the time of writing, Nirvana had not yet responded to this filing for dismissal.
Authors: Sarah Stothart and Sam Galway