U.S. News | Nirvana Representatives Sue Marc Jacobs for Alleged Copyright Infringement

Image Source: Pixabay

Representatives of music band, Nirvana, have filed a copyright infringement suit against designer Marc Jacobs, Saks Fifth Avenue (“Saks”), and Neiman Marcus.

It would be recalled that the band split up in 1994 following the death of lead singer Kurt Cobain. Representatives of the former band are claiming that Marc Jacobs’ unauthorized use of “Nirvana’s copyrighted image on and to promote its products is intentional”.

“Defendants have infringed Nirvana’s copyright, misleadingly used Nirvana’s common law trademarks, and utilized other elements with which Nirvana is widely associated to make it appear that Nirvana has endorsed or is otherwise associated with Defendant Marc Jacobs’ “Bootleg Redux Grunge” collection of clothing it is selling to the public when, in fact, Nirvana has not done so and is not so associated. Defendants Saks and Neiman Marcus are currently selling Marc Jacobs’ infringing products in their stores throughout the United States. Nirvana seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the harm Defendants’ actions have caused, and injunctive relief to stop Defendants’ infringing conduct”, the complaint reads.

Exhibit from the Complaint showing the Nirvana Licensed Smiley Face on various merchandise

The suit claims that in or about November 2018, Marc Jacobs announced the release of its “Bootleg Redux Grunge” clothing collection and included items that utilize a design and logo virtually identical to Nirvana’s copyrighted image. Nirvana has used that copyrighted design and logo continuously since 1992 to identify its music and licensed merchandise.
The suit also states that Marc Jacobs is using that image on products similar to licensed Nirvana products.

” Marc Jacobs’ infringing products all use a ‘smiley face’ image that is obviously similar to, and an intentional copy of, Nirvana’s copyrighted image…, with the minor differences unlikely to be noticed by the consuming public,” the suit states.

Exhibit from the Complaint showing Marc Jacobs clothing items from his collection

The suit states use of Nirvana’s copyrighted image on and to promote its products is intentional, and is part and parcel of a wider campaign to associate the entire “Bootleg Redux Grunge” collection with Nirvana, one of the founders of the “Grunge” musical genre, so as to make the “Grunge” association with the collection more authentic.

The suit further cites the use of Nirvana references in Marc Jacobs marketing materials, including a meme posted to the brand’s Tumblr account featuring a clip of the group’s 1991 hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and an image of Jacobs wearing a T-shirt above the words Come As You Are, the title of a 1992 hit by the trio.

Exhibit from the Complaint

The suit describes Marc Jacobs’ actions as “oppressive, fraudulent and malicious” and claims that they “have caused Nirvana to suffer irreparable injuries” and “threaten to dilute the value of Nirvana’s licenses with its licensees for clothing products”.

“…Defendants’ misuse of Nirvana’s intellectual property to promote themselves and the “Bootleg Redux Grunge:” collection damages the goodwill associated with Nirvana and violates its rights in numerous ways,” the suit states

Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus are included in the suit for selling the items that allegedly infringe the band’s copyright. The group is seeking preliminary and permanent injunction restraining Marc Jacobs, Saks, and Neiman Marcus from sale, promotion and advertisement of the alleged infringing merchandise. They are also seeking monetary and punitive damages.

Nirvana L.L.C. v. Mark Jacobs International L.L.C. et al

Case Information:
Judge:John A Kronstadt
California Central District Court
Case Number:2:18-cv-10743
Nature of SuitCopyrights
CauseCopyright Infringement
Case Filed:Dec 28, 2018
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About Ufuoma Akpotaire 293 Articles
Ufuoma is a Senior Editor and Director of Regulatory Policy at NLIPW. She assists clients in the protection of copyrights, trademarks and patents. She counsels clients regarding validity and infringement matters and has experience acting against the infringement of IP and addressing counterfeit issues. She holds a Masters degree (LL.M.) from Columbia Law School, New York and a law degree from the University of Nigeria (LL.B. Honors). She is admitted to practice law in Nigeria and in the State of New York. Ufuoma cut her teeth in the intellectual property practice groups of some of the largest law firms in Nigeria and has years of experience working with major non-profit organizations in New York. Email: uakpotaire@nlipw.com