Nirvana and Marc Jacobs' logo battle just got messier

Nirvana - copyright case
(Image credit: Nirvana)

There was a time in the 90s when you could hardly walk down the street without spotting a t-shirt adorned with Nirvana's famous 'smiley face' logo. But it seems it isn't all smiles for the band right now, as it pursues a fierce copyright case against fashion designer Marc Jacobs for co-opting the logo. And now, both parties are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to save face.

Marc Jacobs has now claimed that the famous logo (which, like all of the best logos, is truly unmistakeable) wasn't even designed by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. According to a new filing by the fashion house, there is insufficient proof that shirts featuring a (very) similar face are even an infringement of copyright at all.

Nirvana copyright case

We can see the similarity here (Image credit: &

The case has been raging on for a few years, with Nirvana suing Marc Jacobs in 2018 over a shirt (above) from its 'Bootleg Redux Grunge' collection. Clearly based on Nirvana's design, the shirt features pretty much the same face, with the eyes replaced with Marc Jacobs' initials (very rock 'n' roll), and the text changed from Nirvana to Heaven – albeit in the same typeface. (Clearly nobody told Marc Jacobs about our best free fonts.) 

This latest development marks a change in strategy from Marc Jacobs, however. Initially, the company claimed that the designs weren't that similar – which, unless you're as zonked out as the face itself, seems pretty ridiculous. But now, according to Yahoo!, the fashion house is trying a different tact by claiming the logo wasn't actually designed by Kurt Kobain or any other member or employee of Nirvana at all. 

"The creator of the registered T-shirt design is art director Mr. Robert Fisher, who was not an employee of Nirvana Inc., the copyright claimant listed on the registration, and who has sworn that he did not transfer his rights to anyone," lawyers say in the same Yahoo report.

This is by no means the first logo dispute we've seen recently. Apple recently pulled its weight against a small business and its 'pear' logo, while car manufacturers Citroën and Volvo are at war over a similar design. As Marc Jacobs lawyers told the court on Monday, "it's ironic how much trouble a smile can cause”.

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Daniel Piper
Senior News Editor

Daniel Piper is Creative Bloq’s Senior News Editor. As the brand’s Apple authority, he covers all things Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. He also reports on the worlds of design, branding and tech. Daniel joined Future in 2020 (an eventful year, to say the least) after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more. Outside of Future, Daniel is a global poetry slam champion and has performed at festivals including Latitude, Bestival and more. He is the author of Arbitrary and Unnecessary: The Selected Works of Daniel Piper (Selected by Daniel Piper).