Marc Jacobs Countersues Nirvana Over ‘Smiley Face’ T-Shirt Design

Laura Lee
Aug 04, 2019

Lawyers for Nirvana, the alternative rock band, filed a copyright claim against Marc Jacobs over a T-shirt with a smiley face on it. The band maintains that it is “virtually identical or substantially similar” to a designed created by its frontman Kurt Cobain in 1991. Fashion brand Marc Jacobs countersued saying the band’s complaint is “invalid and unenforceable.” However, U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt dismissed Marc Jacob’s motion to dismiss the case.

Kronstadt stated that the only “discernible difference” between the faces on the T-shirt was Marc Jacob’s use of the letters ‘M’ and ‘J’ instead of Nirvana’s two ‘X’s. He judged Nirvana’s ownership claim to be enough for the case to proceed. Lawyers for Marc Jacobs filed a lawsuit countering Nirvana’s complaint. The fashion company said that the two surviving members of Nirvana (David Grohl and Krist Novoselic) were not able to identify the design’s creator in sworn testimony.

Apparently, among the deficiencies in Nirvana’s lawsuit is that it is not quite clear who designed the band’s infamous logo. The original lawsuit claimed that the smiley face design was created by Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of the band, around 1991, first appearing on a flyer for the Nevermind album release party and later on the band’s t-shirts. But during the most recent depositions, remaining band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic acknowledged that they aren’t entirely certain who designed it.

Jacobs believes the “apparent absence of any living person with first-hand knowledge of the creation” offers a basis for the case to be dismissed. His suit demands also that his company’s legal costs be recovered. Jacobs is an American fashion designer who is most prominently known for his own label, as well as for his role as creative director at French fashion house Louis Vuitton. He has been credited with pioneering the grunge trend which took the nation by storm in the early 1990s.