Dave Grohl and Frances Bean Cobain’s Nirvana LLC is yet again involved in controversy. It has been noted that the company that controls Nirvana’s copyrights has fired back at a Los Angeles art director who made a legal threat. Previously, Frances Bean Cobain had posted an emotional Michael Stipe photo.
According to court papers obtained, Robert Fisher is claiming in federal court that he designed a smiley face logo the grunge band has been using on merchandise for three decade. The former art director at Geffen/UMG Records is an intervenor in a 2018 lawsuit in which Nirvana LLC is suing fashion designer Marc Jacobs for allegedly copying the happy face on clothing in a collection called Bootleg Redux Grunge.
The lawyers for Nirvana argue that the band’s company has full ownership of the image, and claim that the line drawing of a happy face with crooked grin and X’s for eyes was created by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in 1991, and registered for copyright two years later.
Fisher of Woodland Hills had filed intervening papers in the Jacobs lawsuit three years ago alleging he created the design as a favor to Nirvana’s management and owns a copyright interest under an “implied license” he granted to the band.
Nirvana’s lawyers responded in documents filed Monday that “in the 30 years since the design’s creation and Nirvana’s exploitation of it, Fisher never claimed any interest in it.” Fisher did not immediately respond to a message sent by City News Service. It has been also noted that the design has been used on dozens of different Nirvana T-shirts, shirts, hats, hoodies, bags, backpacks, glasses, wallets and other merchandise.
At Geffen, Fisher worked regularly with Nirvana for several years, and following Cobain’s 1994 suicide, worked intermittently as a graphic artist on various Nirvana-related projects. He made allegations that he terminated the implied license a year ago and that any further use of the logo infringes his copyright in the smiley face.
Nirvana has denied having license from Fisher who alleged that even if the art director had played a role in the creation of the design, the work took place within the course of his employment at Geffen, “and thus any copyright interest in any such work would have been owned in the first instance” by the label.
As a result of its new filing, Nirvana has pleaded to the federal judge to find that Nirvana owns a valid copyright to the happy face design and logo, and that Fisher owns no part in the design rights. Nirvana LLC, which consists of former band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, and the Cobain estate (represented by his widow Courtney Love and their daughter Frances Bean Cobain) was formed in 1997 to manage the band’s affairs following Cobain’s death. A trial date in the Jacobs copyright case has not been set.
Nirvana were also recently accused of using the Nevermind baby as ‘child pornography’ in a lawsuit that was thrown out. Spencer Elden, the model baby in question, sought millions from Nirvana.