Ninth Circuit Refuses to Hear Nirvana Artwork Infringement Lawsuit: ‘The United Kingdom Provides An Adequate Alternative Forum’

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Nirvana merchandise (far left) that allegedly infringes upon artwork created by C.W. Scott-Giles. Photo Credit: Digital Music News

Close to two years back, a district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a UK-based individual who claimed that Nirvana had infringed upon a family member’s artwork. Now, an appellate court has affirmed the ruling by formally rejecting the plaintiff’s request to proceed with the suit in the US.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just recently issued its own decision in the long-running case, finding that the “district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing…and denying the related motion for reconsideration.” One Jocelyn Susan Bundy submitted the initial complaint in April of 2021, naming as defendants Nirvana LLC, Live Nation Merchandise, and others.

According to the straightforward action, Bundy is “the sole surviving relative and sole successor-in-title to the copyright in the works created by her late grandfather C.W. Scott-Giles,” who passed away in 1982. And one of the artist’s works, “a drawing of Upper Hell as described by Italian philosopher and poet Dante Alighieri in his literary trilogy ‘The Divine Comedy,’” was created by Scott-Giles in 1949.

But in January of 2021, the filing party discovered that the defendants had been “licensing, promoting, selling, manufacturing, and distributing vinyl records,” apparel, and much else featuring an allegedly “virtually identical” image, per the text. And needless to say, given the legal battle that followed this discovery, the plaintiff made clear that she hadn’t received compensation for or authorized the allegedly infringing use.

Additionally, as the alleged infringement had chiefly occurred in the US, the UK, and Germany, according to the suit, Bundy also sued for violations of the latter two nations’ copyright laws. “Though the scope of potential relief available in a U.K. court may not be what Bundy envisioned when she filed her claim in the United States district court,” this district court explained in dismissing, “clearly there is ‘some remedy’ for the alleged wrong.”

Said dismissal was contingent upon the defendants’ agreeing to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of a UK court should the suit be filed across the pond; the appropriate parties ultimately consented to the stipulation.

Bearing in mind the point, the appellate court found the district court had “properly determined that the United Kingdom provides an adequate alternative forum” – in part because “the face of Bundy’s complaint suggests that she does not have an enforceable U.S. copyright interest.”

“Bundy has yet to present affirmative evidence proving sole ownership or ownership at all,” the court likewise indicated, further relaying that a “number of public interest factors weigh in” the defendants’ favor. Among these factors are “the need to apply U.K. and German law,” “the unwarranted potential burden on U.S. courts,” and “the fact that a trial in the United Kingdom would be ‘speedier’ than one in the Central District.”

In December, Spencer Elden, who’s most widely known for appearing on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind as a baby, moved to appeal the dismissal of his child-pornography lawsuit against the band.