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Marc Jacobs Counterclaims Against Nirvana in ‘Happy Face’ Dispute


February 14, 2020

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Back in December 2018, Nirvana LLC sued Marc Jacobs for copyright infringement after the fashion brand released merchandise featuring smiley face graphics that bore a strong resemblance to the grunge band’s black and yellow “happy face” logo that uses two X's as eyes. The only difference between Nirvana and Marc Jacobs’ graphics was that Marc Jacobs used the letters ‘M’ and ‘J’ as eyes in place of the two X's. The lawsuit alleges that, due to Marc Jacobs’ wrongful actions, Nirvana has suffered irreparable injuries and the value of its licenses are at risk of dilution.


In response, Marc Jacobs brought a motion to have the claim dismissed on the basis that Nirvana’s copyright did not cover the use of M and J instead of the two X's. This motion was ultimately denied in a decision issued by the United States District Court on November 8, 2019.


Following the unsuccessful motion to dismiss, Marc Jacobs has now counterclaimed against Nirvana, alleging that the complaint is “invalid and unenforceable” because the logo is composed of familiar symbols, designs, words, and phrases. Marc Jacobs also argues that Nirvana should be estopped from claiming any infringement due to the fact that Courtney Love, widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, was in negotiations with Marc Jacobs to become involved in the release of the merchandise at issue.

Authors: Scott Kerr and Megan Brooks

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