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Nirvana Sue Designer Marc Jacobs Over Logo Use in 'Bootleg' Grunge Collection

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 02, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Proving there's nothing new under the runway lights, Marc Jacobs recently released his "Bootleg Redux Grunge" collection, recycling looks from his 1993 collection for Perry Ellis, and adding some tweaks to some early 90's favorites. One such piece is gaining some unwelcome legal notoriety.

Jacobs riffed off the famous Nirvana smiley face logo, exchanging the band's name with the word "Heaven," and replacing the face's x-ed out eyes with letters "M" and "J" -- or ripped off the logo, if you're surviving bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. The band sued Jacobs over his use of the logo, claiming Kurt Cobain created the logo and the band continues to use it to market their music.

Smells Like a Lawsuit

"In 1993," Jacobs' website asserts, "Marc Jacobs made fashion history," putting grunge on the runway for the first time. Despite that historic moment, Nirvana trademarked their logo a year prior. So, a $115 t-shirt "designed to feel like a thrift store find," a $195 sweatshirt, and $45 black socks all featuring Jacobs' "bootleg" logo, are over two decades too late. And while Jacobs collaborated with legendary illustrator R. Crumb and bootmaker Doc Martens to create the look, no such partnership apparently existed between Jacobs and Nirvana.

"Cobain created Nirvana's Smiley Face logo in 1991 and 'Nirvana has used that copyright-protected design and logo continuously since [then] to identify its music,'" according to the complaint filed by Nirvana, LLC. The band also "licensed its copyrighted logo on literally dozens of different T-shirts, shirts, hats, hoodies, bags, backpacks, glasses, wallets, and other items of merchandise, many of which have sold extensively for decades." Therefore, Jacobs' appropriation of the logo constituted copyright infringement.

The items in question remain for sale on Jacobs' website, and a whole host of products -- from Christmas ornaments and beer glasses -- bearing Nirvana's original logo can be purchased from their site. Let the legal battle over grunge's corpse begin!

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