Jocelyn Susan Bundy, the granddaughter of an artist named C.W. Scott-Giles, sued Nirvana with the claim that the rock legends had ripped off Scott-Giles’ illustration of the upper layers of hell, which he had designed for a 1949 English translation of Dante’s “Inferno.” Bundy alleges that Nirvana LLC, Live Nation Merchandise LLC, Merch Traffic LLC and Silva Artist Management LLC have been using that illustration on their merchandise since 1997.
Blabbermouth detailed some of the claim written in the lawsuit, which was filed on April 28, “On or about January 20, 2021, Plaintiff discovered that Defendants NIRVANA and Live Nation Merchandise are (and have been) licensing, promoting, selling, manufacturing, and distributing vinyl records, t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, key fobs, mugs, patches, buttons, and other merchandise items depicting an image virtually identical to the Illustration both in the U.S. and abroad. On or about March 11, 2021, Plaintiff discovered that, sometime after February 13, 2021, Defendant Merch Traffic also started promoting, licensing, selling, and distributing Infringing Products in the U.S. and abroad.”
The complaint continues, “Further research revealed that some of the unauthorized uses of the Illustration on NIRVANA-branded merchandise date as far back as 1989. Further research also revealed that over the years, the band NIRVANA and parties acting on its behalf have routinely made false claims of ownership of the copyright in the Illustration by placing false copyright notices on the Infringing Products in substantially this form ‘© [Year] Nirvana’.”
It closes with the allegation, “Finally, in documents filed in two other copyright actions before this Court, Defendant NIRVANA has implied that Kurt Cobain created the Illustration or, in the alternative, that the Illustration is in the public domain in the United States, and that, therefore, NIRVANA and its licensees are free to use it without authorization or compensation. NIRVANA and some of the other Defendants have maintained this position in their responses to Plaintiff’s continuing requests to cease their wrongful conduct in the U.S. and abroad.”
Some of the retailers accused of carrying the merchandise in question include Walmart, H&M and Hot Topic. It’s an older design from Nirvana’s iconography, so many postings of it seem to be sold out, as demonstrated by this example. One supposedly original official band T-shirt with the design is currently for sale on Etsy for $2,800.
Nirvana has also been in a similar legal battle with fashion company Marc Jacobs. It has been going on since Nirvana sued Marc Jacobs over unauthorized use of an allegedly similar design to their iconic “happy face” in December 2018. Marc Jacobs counter-sued in 2019 with the claim that Nirvana couldn’t prove that Kurt Cobain had originally designed the illustration.