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Smells Like Copyright Infringement?


May 25, 2021

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The band Nirvana has been sued for copyright infringement for allegedly using a C.W. Scott-Giles illustration on its merchandise.


The illustration depicts a diagram of Upper Hell, the first five circles of hell that Dante traverses in his Inferno, and was drawn by Scott-Giles for a Dorothy L. Sayers translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, first published in the United Kingdom in 1949. The suit was brought by Jocelyn Susan Bundy, the granddaughter of Scott-Giles, who is described in the complaint as the “sole surviving relative and sole successor-in-title to the copyright in the works created by her late grandfather”.


Bundy claims that she discovered in January 2021 that Nirvana had been using a “virtually identical” image to the Scott-Giles illustration on various pieces of merchandise, including vinyl records, clothing, and mugs sold around the world. While Bundy only discovered the use in 2021, the complaint alleges that Nirvana has been using the image since at least 1989.


The complaint alleges that Nirvana has alternately implied that Kurt Cobain created the illustration or that it’s in the public domain in the United States. Bundy denies the allegations, pointing to Nirvana’s alleged false claims of copyright over the image at various points in time as evidence against Nirvana’s alleged good faith belief that the image was in the public domain. Bundy also claims that Nirvana has ignored a cease and desist request and indicated that they will continue to sell the merchandise with the design for at lease another year.


Bundy is demanding that Nirvana cease production and distribution of the offending merchandise, an accounting and disgorgement of all profits earned from their sale, and damages of any losses sustained by the alleged infringement.

Author: Mark Leonard

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