Nirvana Countersued by Designer Marc Jacobs Over Smiley Face Logo
Marc Jacobs is countersuing Nirvana after the influential grunge band successfully lodged a lawsuit against the fashion designer for infringing on their iconic smiley face logo. A year ago, the fashion house unveiled the Marc Jacobs Redux Grunge Collection, which contained a T-shirt that the group led by the late Kurt Cobain argued blatantly and illegally appropriated the design from a similar Nirvana-branded garment.
But Jacobs doubts that Cobain and his band created the smiley face logo in the first place, as The Hollywood Reporter revealed Wednesday (Nov. 27). Via the designer's counterclaims the previous day, Jacobs is seeking a declaration that the group's copyright registration for the logo is invalid and unenforceable. See a comparison of Nirvana's classic tee and the 2018 Jacobs redux toward the bottom of this post.
Earlier this year, the fashion designer attempted to dismiss the band's initial lawsuit after Nirvana claimed the logo Jacobs used was a "blatant ripoff" of their design. However, a federal court in California allowed the suit to proceed when a judge ruled the group's complaint sufficiently alleged that Nirvana owned the logo's copyright and that the design was similar enough to the T-shirt to survive the motion to dismiss.
Here's where it gets sticky. Since that time, lawyers for Jacobs have deposed surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic in an attempt to find out who created the logo. But the musicians testified they didn't know who designed it. In subsequent briefings, Nirvana's lawyers fired back that neither musician got questioned on the basis as to if they believed Cobain was the logo's creator.
"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," Jacobs' countersuit states.
Seemingly the next step for the case will be determining which side has the burden of proof for the logo. But, for now, it appears that Nirvana's copyright registration has the presumption of validity. Interestingly enough, Cobain's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was employed as a spokesmodel for Marc Jacobs in 2017.
In the above right photo, Jacobs is pictured wearing the "ripoff" shirt in question while enjoying a performance from Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon at the opening of Marc Jacobs Madison on Dec. 3, 2018, in New York City.
See Nirvana in the Top 30 Grunge Albums of All Time