Nirvana sues Marc Jacobs for copyright infringement: But what constitutes as sufficiently or substantially similar? 

nirvana marc jacobs copyright infringement

Image sourced from the Guardian: Marc Jacobs Bootleg Grunge Tee (left) and Nirvana T-shirt (right).

I’m sure that for any of us around in the 90’s the infamous Nirvana shirt, with the distorted googly-eyed smiley face, was all around you. The iconic logo was designed by lead singer Kurt Cobain and alleged to be inspired by a popular Seattle strip club.

But, even with all its notoriety can the logo be protected under copyright?

Redux Grunge – Marc Jacobs latest collection inspired by the broody 90’s features a very similar smiley face shirt with ‘MJ’ replacing the ‘XX’ eyes. Not to mention a distinct black and yellow iconography theme running throughout the collection.

Members of the Cobain estate and Nirvana have alleged the obvious infringement has been used to bolster Marc Jacobs’ ‘Grunge’ association to their recent garments.

The lawsuit describes Marc Jacobs’ designs as “oppressive, fraudulent and malicious”. This isn’t the first trademark and copyright issue for Nirvana. The band is often faced with bootlegging products such as bags, shirts and hoodies. However, unlike these smaller vendors where there is little to no damages recoverable for the band, taking on a powerhouse fashion brand such as Marc Jacobs can provide successful monetary compensation.

A bonus is this lawsuit will spread the message to all major fashion players that the Cobain estate will pursue legal recourse against any future  Intellectual property infringement.

To counter the suit, Marc Jacobs lawyers have since filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit made by the band Nirvana’s estate. The designer admits the designs were inspired by the iconic Nirvana concert T-shirt but argues that the recent collection is substantially different and has incorporated Marc Jacobs branding elements throughout to separate the two designs.

In addition, their counter argument rests on a technicality that the Marc Jacobs design does not feature the famous words “flower sniffin kitty pettin baby kissin corporate rock whores” on the back. To further their case, the motion states that the Nirvana estate may not legally own the infamous logo designed by Kurt Cobain.

As we await the final verdict to this story, Us district judge John A. Kronstadt declared that the designs are indeed substantially similar and has denied the Marc Jacobs’ motion.

Therefore, the infringement case will continue unless Marc Jacobs can come up with a more compelling legal argument to support their position.

Besides, why pay upwards of $250 for a Nirvana inspired Marc Jacobs T-shirt when you can get a proper one from your local bootleg 😉

Watch this space for a more discussion on Trade mark, Copyright and Patent protections and limitations.

By Tasha Aloni

📲 Feel free to contact Aspides for further information on Intellectual Property Protection and what areas of your business need to be assessed.

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