Nirvana Deny Artist’s Ownership Claim of Smiley Face Logo
A firm managing Nirvana's copyrights has refuted a graphic artist's ownership claim over the grunge band’s famous smiley face logo.
The complicated legal drama began in 2018 when Nirvana LLC sued high-end fashion designer Marc Jacobs over a shirt featured in his “Bootleg Redux Grunge” line. The Nirvana camp claimed copyright and trademark infringement, leading to a countersuit from Marc Jacobs.
The case grew more tangled when Robert Fisher, a former art director at Geffen Records, filed a motion in 2020 claiming that he – not Kurt Cobain — is the design’s actual creator and owner. Fisher stated in court papers that, after working with Nirvana on the cover image for Nevermind, he became the “go-to person for almost all of [the band’s] graphic design needs.”
Fisher claimed that, in mid-1991, he received a request 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 attorney claimed that he’d only recently learned Nirvana was “misattributing the illustration to Kurt Cobain” or had registered its copyright.
While Fisher told the Los Angeles Times that had no plans to seek payment for the usage, he reportedly may pursue compensation in the future. “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.”
Fisher's attorney said he created the logo as a favor to band management and owns a copyright interest under an "implied license.”
But as KNX News reports, Nirvana’s lawyers contend — in documents filed on Jan. 24 — that the band’s company has full ownership over the happy face design, claiming Cobain created the image in 1991 and registered for its copyright two years later. The attorneys added that “in the 30 years since the design’s creation and Nirvana’s exploitation of it, Fisher never claimed any interest in it.”
In other Nirvana legal news, a district judge in California recently dismissed a child pornography lawsuit filed by Spencer Elden, who was photographed as a baby for the Nevermind cover.