In case you didn’t know, Nirvana have been involved in a two-year copyright lawsuit over their smiley face logo.
Now, a California graphic artist claims he created the iconic logo, not Kurt Cobain.
As a recap, Nirvana took legal action against Marc Jacobs in December 2018. The lawsuit states that the fashion designer’s grunge collection ripped off their logo. Jacobs eventually requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, however, it has continued on for nearly two years.
The smiley face logo is used in several items in Jacobs’ “Bootleg Redux Grunge” collection including a T-shirt, sweatshirt and a pair of socks. Each item has replaced the classic Nirvana text at the top with “HEAVEN” in an incredibly similar font. As well, each of the eyes on the smiley face portion have been edited to reflect an “M” and “J” for Marc Jacobs instead of the “X’s.”
Jacobs previously admitted that his design was “inspired by vintage Nirvana concert T-shirts from the 1990s.” The brand is claiming though that their design is unique enough because it was redesigned to include Jacobs’ classic “M” and “J” logo.
— david zweig (@davidzweig) March 14, 2019
Nirvana have owned the trademark for the logo since 1992. Cobain reportedly created it for a 1991 Nevermind–era gig flier. However, back in November 2019, Jacobs filed a countersuit against Nirvana’s copyright registration. According to the documents, Jacobs claims the registration is “invalid and unenforceable.”
Now, a California artist is claiming that he designed the smiley face logo, not Cobain. Robert Fisher, a freelance graphic designer, filed a motion on Sept. 13 to intervene in the ongoing federal litigation. He claims that he is the creator of Nirvana’s smiley face logo.
According to Billboard, Fisher says that he was working as an art director at Geffern Records when he heard Nirvana were being signed. Fisher admits he was already a fan of the band at the time. Eventually, he began working with them on an upcoming album design.
Fisher claims that he collaborated with Nirvana for several months on the Nevermind album cover. He reportedly showed the image of the naked baby swimming which eventually became the iconic album artwork.
Following this, Fisher states that he became “Nirvana’s go-to person for almost all of its graphic design needs.” His relationship with Nirvana reportedly continued on after Cobain’s death in 1994 and after he left Geffen Records in 1999.
In 1991, Fisher was reportedly approached about creating a t-shirt design. He states that he “started playing around with variations of the smiley faces that he used to draw in his final year at Otis College, when acid culture was at its peak.” Eventually, he allegedly ended up designing the yellow logo after a series of other drafts.
Fisher says his design is exactly what was submitted for copyright by Nirvana. As well, he was never an official employee of Nirvana, Inc. and never executed an agreement with the band. Therefore, his work cannot be considered as work for hire.
According to Fisher’s attorney Inge De Bruyn, he only learned recently that Cobain was credited for the smiley face logo creation.
“He was also not aware that, back in 1993, Nirvana, Inc. registered the copyright for the Happy Face t-shirt design, naming itself as the author,” De Bruyn says. “Robert has always been a rather private person and not one to wear his achievements on his sleeve. That said, there’s a clear line between people speculating about the origins and authorship of his work, and it being misattributed to someone else. Most creative people would object to that. Artists deserve proper credit for their work. Oftentimes, it’s ALL they get.”
Following all of this, Bert H. Deixler, Nirvana LLC’s attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that Fisher’s claims are “factually and legally baseless.” As well, they will be “vigorously” challenged as the lawsuit continues.
What are your thoughts on the Nirvana logo lawsuit? Let us know in the comments below.