DATE PUBLISHED: 08 Jan 2019 LAST UPDATED: 06 Jul 2022

Nirvana allege copyright infringement – Nevermind!

I do not know whether it’s my love of a good fashion story or my nostalgia of growing up in the 90’s but I just had to blog about Nirvana suing designer Marc Jacobs!

Marc Jacobs has supposedly copied the grunge band’s black and yellow iconography ‘smiley face’ logo, replacing the ‘X’ eyes with ‘M’ and ‘J’ on a number of their garments.

Pictures taken from Nirvana’s claim which can be found here.

The designer has also been heavily criticised for using Nirvana references in their marketing materials, including the use of the group’s 1991 hit, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and an image of Jacobs wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Come As You Are’, the title of the famous 1992 hit.

Frustratingly for Nirvana they did not register their ‘smiley face’ logo as a trademark. However, the band did register the copyright of the ‘smiley face’ in 1993 (yes, in the USA, some forms of copyright have to be registered whilst here in the UK, copyright arises automatically). They are using this registration to pursue their claim in California, and if it were me I would argue unfair competition in addition.

The group is seeking monetary damages and that any items containing the logo are removed from sale. They are also seeking that any marketing references to their song titles are deleted.

Although the legendary ‘smiley face’ logo is subject to regular bootlegging, it is unlikely that the band pursued past infringers due to the low possibility of a decent damages recovery. Pursuing a huge designer such as Marc Jacobs with deep pockets could result in significant monetary damages.

Moral of the story? There is a line between being ‘’influenced’’ by an image and almost copying it. Make sure you have the correct permissions and licenses in place to use copyrighted and trademarked images.

If you have any queries with regard to the intellectual property rights then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Abi Sinden, or call us on 01202 525333.

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