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Nirvana deny artist's ownership claim of smiley face logo

Nirvana’s copyright managers have refuted the graphic artist’s ownership claim over the famed smiley face logo that is often seen on T-shirts and other merchandise related to the US grunge outfit. 

The legal debate began in 2018 when Nirvana LLC sued the fashion designer Marc Jacobs for using the logo on one of the shirts in his ‘Bootleg Redux Grunge’ line. Nirvana’s team claimed that the T-shirt was a copyright infringement; they were then met with a countersuit from Jacobs.

In a later development, Robert Fisher, a former director of art at Geffen Records, filed a suit himself, instead claiming that it was him who designed the smiley face logo and that it wasn’t in fact a creation of the late Kurt Cobain as popular belief has ensued. Fisher added that after his work on the album cover for Nevermind, he was the “go-to person for almost all of [Nirvana’s] graphic design needs”.

He claimed that in 1991, he was commissioned to design a T-shirt and “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”. His representative added that Fisher had only recently come to realise that the band were “misattributing the illustration to Kurt Cobain”.

Fisher explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he had no plans to seek payment for the design, but that he may pursue compensation in the future. He explained: “Since I drew it, I want to be known as the guy that drew it. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair that they try and take out a copyright and say Kurt did it”.

However, in opposition, Nirvana’s lawyers explained that the band’s company has full ownership over the happy face design. They claimed that Cobain created the image in 1991 and registered for its copyright two years later. They added that “in the 30 years since the design’s creation and Nirvana’s exploitation of it, Fisher never claimed any interest in it”.