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Nirvana and luxury fashion house Marc Jacobs settle lawsuit over smiley-face logo

Nirvana and Marc Jacobs settle lawsuit over smiley-face logo dispute
Nirvana and Marc Jacobs settle lawsuit over smiley-face logo dispute Copyright AP Photo/Mark J.Terrill - Marc Jacobs
Copyright AP Photo/Mark J.Terrill - Marc Jacobs
By David Mouriquand
Published on Updated
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After six years of legal battles, the legendary grunge band and luxury fashion house are reaching settlement over the use of a smiley-face logo. Lawyers for Nirvana claimed that Marc Jacobs improperly tried to associate itself with the band through the use of the image.

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Grunge band Nirvana, LVMH-owned fashion label Marc Jacobs and art director Robert Fisher have reportedly settled a lawsuit over the fashion brand’s use of an image that bears a striking resemblance to the band’s iconic smiley face logo. 

This puts an end to a long-running dispute over the logo. 

Nirvana sued Marc Jacobs International in 2018 after the company launched a “Redux Grunge” collection that featured a smiley face that resembled a bit too much the band’s iconic logo, which was first licensed in 1992. 

Instead of the ‘X’s for eyes, the shirt in question had the letters 'M' and 'J' – with the wobbly smile with a tongue hanging out and word “Heaven” in a similar font to Nirvana’s.

Marc Jacobs' Redux Grunge Collection
Marc Jacobs' Redux Grunge CollectionMarc Jacobs - Getty

The logo was apparently created by lead singer Kurt Cobain in 1991. Both Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic previously testified that they did not know who made the smiley face – something which Marc Jacobs’ lawyers brought up in a countersuit.  

In the 2019 claim, the designers stated: “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.” 

The band’s lawyers argued that the fashion brand’s “use of Nirvana’s copyrighted image on and to promote its products is intentional, and is part and parcel of a wider campaign 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.” 

To complicate matters more, in 2020, Robert Fisher, former art director of Nirvana’s record label Geffen Records, claimed he had designed the logo when working with the band in 1990s.  

US District Judge John Kronstadt ruled in 2023 that Geffen, not Fisher, would own the logo if Fisher had created it. However, he did not decide whether the logo was created by Cobain or Fisher. 

According to documents filed at a Californian district court this week, the parties agreed to mediators' proposals submitted by Magistrate Judge Steve Kim. 

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed in court documents, and the parties have 21 days to draw up the details of the agreement. 

Additional sources • Rolling Stone

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