UPDATE (November 28, 2019): Designer brand Marc Jacobs has countersued Nirvana claiming that the music group’s copyright registration regarding the famed smiley face artwork is not valid because no one can pinpoint the creator of the logo, according to Billboard. Therefore, the Marc Jacobs T-shirt in question which infringes on the artwork is being claimed as unenforceable but still, the initial court decision to progress the case sides with Nirvana.
“The apparent absence of any living person with first-hand knowledge of the creation of the allegedly copyrighted work in question, coupled with numerous other deficiencies in the 166 Registration that is the basis for Nirvana’s infringement claim are the basis for the counterclaim asserted,” court papers claim.
Kurt Cobain could be the creator of the logo, but this would still be hard to prove, given his absence. Finding proof of the origin of the design is what could make or break this case.
ORIGINAL STORY (November 17, 2019):
California federal court recently ruled in favor of grunge band Nirvana in an ongoing case against fashion house Marc Jacobs. Back in December 2018, Nirvana filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Marc Jacobs for stealing its iconic yellow and black smiley face design. Nirvana claimed the styles in question, called “Bootleg Grunge” T-shirt and sweatshirt, ran afoul on its specific trademark for the yellow smiley associated with the word “Nirvana.” However, Marc Jacobs soon fired back with a motion to dismiss, claiming its modified version of the iconic graphic does not violate the grunge band’s trademark.
According to The Fashion Law, the recent ruling decided that Nirvana maintains trademark rights of the smiley graphic and that Marc Jacobs’ version is close enough to be questioned. In addition to the obvious, Judge John Kronstadt added that “[Marc Jacobs’ products] have combined [Nirvana’s] protectable artwork with other distinctive elements of the Nirvana t-shirts, including through the use of yellow lines on black background and a similar type and placement for the text above the image on the clothing.” He also noted that consumers are likely to believe Nirvana is associated with Marc Jacobs’ items based on these similarities.
As a result, the case will continue on in court.
Elsewhere in the courtroom, Jay-Z and Iconix Brand Group have officially reached a settlement for ongoing legal battles related to Roc Nation baseball caps.