Pin It
Nirvana smiley face

Nirvana’s smiley face is the subject of fresh controversy

An artist has claimed to be the rightful owner of the logo, which is already the subject of a legal battle between the band and Marc Jacobs

Remember in December 2018, when Nirvana announced that they were suing Marc Jacobs for using the band’s iconic smiley face logo, trademarked in 1992, in his “Bootleg Redux Grunge” collection? At the time, the designer responded with a sly Instagram post – using the hashtags #OnVacation, #NoStress, #JustPeaceAndQuiet – before following up with his legal team in the new year.

As legal battles tend to do though, the case is still dragging on, set to go to trial in 2021 after several coronavirus-related delays. And, as of last week, there’s a new claimant as well: Robert Fisher, an artist and graphic designer from California.

Once the art director at Geffen Records, and the designer of several Nirvana record covers since 1991, Fisher claims he was the one who originally came up with the iconic smiley face, telling the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t think it’s fair that they try and take out a copyright and say Kurt did it.”

While Fisher doesn’t seek payment for the past 29 years that the smiley face has been used, he filed a motion in federal court last week to intervene in the ongoing case between Marc Jacobs and Nirvana, claiming both authorship and ownership of the design.

“Since I drew it, I want to be known as the guy that drew it,” he adds. “It’s as simple as that.”

Presumably, this will complicate the case even further, though Bert H. Deixler, an attorney for Nirvana LLC – a partnership formed in 1997 to manage the band’s affairs following Cobain’s death – says that Fisher’s claim is “factually and legally baseless”.

Speaking about the case against Marc Jacobs, Deixler adds that Fisher’s intervention shouldn’t make much of a difference, saying: “We are marching forward. The copying Marc Jacobs undertook for his financial benefit is very far from protectable under any theory.”

This isn’t the only time a fashion brand has had a run-in with Cobain’s legacy. In May 2019, Courtney Love called out Vetements for a look in its AW19 collection, allegedly inspired by a t-shirt the musician wore to a 1992 Rolling Stone cover shoot that reads, “Corporate magazines still suck”.