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Nirvana win copyright lawsuit over 'Vestibule' T-shirt design

Nirvana have survived yet another lawsuit. This particular one claimed that their second-most recognisable T-shirt design is based on a copyrighted illustration based on Dante’s classic work Inferno.

On Thursday (October 21), US Judge Dale S. Fischer ruled and dismissed a case against Nirvana and Live Nation’s merchandise section, in regards to the band’s iconic ‘Vestibule’ shirt.

The shirt design features the world-famous map of the nine rings of hell, first described by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the Inferno segment of his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. The T-shirt design was first sold in 1989 after the band released their debut album Bleach.

In May, Jocelyn Susan Bundy filed a suit against the grunge heroes for copyright infringement. She claimed that the image belonged to her grandfather Charles-Wilfrid Scott-Giles who created it as part of his academic work on heraldry. 

Her lawsuit claimed that the ‘Vestibule’ image was “virtually identical” to her grandfather’s design which is entitled ‘Upper Hell’. On Thursday, Judge Fischer opined that the case would be better suited to the British legal system than the Californian courts. He wrote: “Given that one of the core disputes in this case concerns ownership of the copyright in the Illustration, which is governed by UK law, the UK likely has a stronger interest, on balance, in this case.”

On the other hand, Inge De Bruyn, Bundy’s representative, told Billboard that they are “currently evaluating all options, including refiling the case in UK court”.

This is not the first court case Nirvana have faced this year. Notoriously, they were sued by Spencer Elden, who as a baby posed for the cover art of their iconic 1991 album, Nevermind. He alleged that the use of the image was “commercial child sexual exploitation”.

Elden’s charges included Universal Music censoring the image of his genitals of the 30th-anniversary reissue of the album, and his lawyer requesting they “end this child exploitation and violation of privacy.”

Both are developing stories.