A legal stoush has erupted in the US over who owns the rights to the iconic “smiley face” that has adorned rock band Nirvana’s T-shirts and merchandise for the past quarter of a century.
The iconic image – which, to its credit, remains very much in fashion with today’s youngsters – was widely believed to have been designed by the band’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain, who took his own life back in 1994.
Nirvana has used the copyrighted smiley face design and logo continuously since 1992.
Last year, high-end fashion label Marc Jocobs was sued by Nirvana members after the brand released a T-shirt that looked remarkably similar to its iconic logo. Check out the similarities below:
At the time, Nirvana said the design “threatened to dilute the value of Nirvana’s licenses with its licensees for clothing products”. For its part, Marc Jacobs counter-sued arguing the smiley face – part of its ‘Redux Grunge Collection’ – was a “commonplace image”.
However, a new litigant has thrown his hat into the ring saying it was him and not Cobain that designed the orginal Nirvana logo.
Los Angeles-based graphic designer Robert Fisher has now intervened in the Marc Jacobs-Nirvana court battle claiming to be the rightful creator and owner of the copyright design.
According to court documents, Fisher said he was working at the famous Geffen Records before Nirvana was signed. The designer said he was a fan of the band and asked if he could work with them on the upcoming design of their classic album, Nevermind. Fisher said he not only worked with the band to come up with the iconic album art for Nevermind, but he was “…Nirvana’s go-to person for almost all of its graphic design needs”.
Fisher said he designed the smiley face logo after the band asked him “to come up with more retail-friendly merchandise”.
He said 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.”
Fisher claims he then put Nirvana’s band name above it in Onyx font and even picked the yellow/gold colour. He added that the design is exactly what was submitted to the copyright office and that he was never an employee of Nirvana so his work cannot be considered work for hire.
Fisher’s laywer, Inge De Bruyn, told US music website Billboard: “The rule in copyright is that the individual creator of a work is to be considered its author and original owner. That really is the basic premise…And the situation is such that if Robert does not assert his rights now, he risks losing them forever.”
The attorney for the band, Bert H. Deixler told the Los Angeles Times that Fisher’s claims were “factually and legally baseless” and that they would be will be “vigorously” challenged.
The case continues.
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