Nirvana and Marc Jacobs Settle Nearly Six-Year-Old Lawsuit Over the Iconic ‘Smiley Face’ Logo

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Two of the Marc Jacobs products that allegedly infringed on the famed Nirvana ‘smiley face’ logo. Photo Credit: Digital Music News

After more than half a decade, a settlement has finally arrived in the infringement legal battle centering on the iconic Nirvana “smiley face” logo.

The involved parties, referring to Nirvana’s namesake company on one side as well as Marc Jacobs International, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus Group, and others in the opposite corner, yesterday informed the court of the resolution. Per the concise notice, the agreement is based on a mediator’s proposals.

Now “in the process of fully documenting their settlement agreement,” Nirvana and the defendants have until August 16th to file a formal dismissal request, according to the legal text. Should they make that deadline, a related August 26th hearing will be shelved.

In keeping with the timetable and the ongoing finalization of the confidential settlement, the exact terms of the litigation-ending deal are unclear. But the allegedly infringing collection at the case’s core, dubbed “Bootleg Redux Grunge” and featuring shirts and more, no longer appears to be for sale directly via Marc Jacobs.

Of course, that may well be because the apparel was made available to customers close to six years ago. “Virtually identical” to the rock band’s aforementioned smiley face logo but with the letters “M” and “J” for eyes, the designs in question, marketed via a carefully tailored campaign, were “completely unauthorized by Nirvana,” the original suit drove home.

Also in that initial complaint, the plaintiff maintained that Kurt Cobain had created the smiley face in 1991 and registered it in 1993. Subsequently, though, the defendants countersued and alleged, among other things, that Nirvana lacked the right to enforce the disputed copyright and common law trademarks.

The development set the stage for artist Robert Fisher (who was an art director at Universal Music’s Geffen between 1989 and 2000) to join the action, claiming that he’d created the logo with Nirvana back in 1991. According to Reuters, the presiding judge last year determined that Geffen would own the logo in that circumstance, but stopped short of clarifying whether Cobain or Fisher had actually made it.

With this case in the books, the focus will presumably shift to several different lawsuits involving Nirvana art – including the cover of Nevermind. The now-adult individual photographed on the album’s cover as a baby saw an appellate court revive his case in December of 2023.

Also in 2023, a separate complaint, this time filed against Nirvana over its alleged infringement of artwork on apparel items, was deemed by a federal court better suited for litigation across the pond.