Marc Jacobs countersues Nirvana over ‘smiley face’ T-shirt design

Written by Rory Sullivan, CNN

Fashion brand Marc Jacobs has brought a countersuit against Nirvana, saying the band’s complaint that it ripped off a Kurt Cobain design for one of its T-shirts is “invalid and unenforceable.”
Lawyers for Nirvana, the alternative rock band, first filed a copyright claim against Marc Jacobs in December over a T-shirt with a smiley face on it.

The band alleges that this is “virtually identical or substantially similar” to a design purportedly created by its frontman Kurt Cobain in 1991 — three years before his death.

In an opinion issued by the court on November 8, US. District Judge John A. Kronstadt dismissed Marc Jacobs’s motion to throw the case out.

Kronstadt stated that the only “discernible difference” between the faces on the sweatshirts was Marc Jacobs’s use of the letters ‘M’ and ‘J’ instead of two ‘X’s.

He also judged Nirvana’s ownership claim to be sufficient for the case to proceed.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City in 1993.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City in 1993. Credit: Frank Micelotta Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kronstadt added that although Nirvana claims Cobain was the designer, the possibility remains that the chain of ownership passed on to Nirvana, Inc.

Following this ruling, lawyers for Marc Jacobs filed a lawsuit, countering Nirvana’s complaints and pressing for costs.

In a document filed Tuesday, the fashion company’s action says that the two surviving members of Nirvana –David Grohl and Krist Novoselic — were not able to identify the design’s creator in sworn testimony.

Accordingly, the designer believes the “apparent absence of any living person with first-hand knowledge of the creation” offers a basis for the case to be dismissed.