Published Sep 25, 2020Nirvana's iconic smiley face logo is continuing to cause all sorts of legal drama, with a graphic designer now claiming he's the rightful owner of the design — not Kurt Cobain.
The artist in question is a California freelance graphic designer named Robert Fisher, who filed a motion on September 13 claiming he was the rightful owner and creator of the design, Billboard reports.
The move comes as Nirvana LLC faces ongoing federal litigation in the U.S. California Central District with Marc Jacobs over use of the logo — a legal war that's been waging since 2018.
According to Fisher's legal representation Inge De Bruyn, the artist recently learned the band were "misattributing the illustration to Kurt Cobain."
Speaking to Billboard, De Bruyn explained: "He was also not aware that, back in 1993, Nirvana, Inc. registered the copyright for the Happy Face T-shirt design, naming itself as the author. Robert has always been a rather private person and not one to wear his achievements on his sleeve.
"That said, there's a clear line between people speculating about the origins and authorship of his work, and it being misattributed to someone else. Most creative people would object to that. Artists deserve proper credit for their work. Often times, it's all they get."
Explaining things further, De Bruyn continued: "The rule in copyright is that the individual creator of a work is to be considered its author and original owner. That really is the basic premise. 'Work-for-hire' as a legal fiction forms a very limited exception to that premise.
"As explained in the filings, we don't believe that, under the law, this exception applies here. And the situation is such that if Robert does not assert his rights now, he risks losing them forever."
Billboard reports that the publication has viewed court papers that find Fisher saying he was working as an art director at Geffen Records when he asked if he could do design work on Nirvana's Nevermind album. Fisher added that he became "Nirvana's go-to person for almost all of its graphic design needs."
Fisher also claimed he received a request to design a Nirvana T-shirt in 1991 when he "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."
Lawyers for Nirvana, meanwhile, have declared full ownership of the image, noting that it was "created by Kurt Cobain in about 1991 and registered for copyright in 1993."
In response to the filing, Nirvana's legal rep Bert H. Deixler told the Los Angeles Times that the claims were "factually and legally baseless" and would be will be "vigorously" challenged.