NIRVANA Sued For Using Illustration From Translation Of Dante's 'Inferno' On Band Merchandise

May 1, 2021

NIRVANA has been sued by the heir of a British artist who drew a map of hell for a translation of Dante's "Inferno", alleging the iconic rock band ripped off the image and used it on its merchandise. "Inferno" is the first part of Italian writer Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem "Divine Comedy".

Jocelyn Susan Bundy on Wednesday (April 28) sued Nirvana LLC, Live Nation Merchandise LLC and its Merch Traffic LLC unit, along with Silva Artist Management LLC, saying NIRVANA had been using her grandfather C.W. Scott-Giles drawing since 1997 on shirts, mugs, vinyl records, and other merchandise sold at stores including Walmart, H&M and Hot Topic. The drawing depicts Dante's circles of Upper Hell.

The complaint states: "On or about January 20, 2021, Plaintiff discovered that Defendants NIRVANA and Live Nation Merchandise are (and have been) licensing, promoting, selling, manufacturing, and distributing vinyl records, t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, key fobs, mugs, patches, buttons, and other merchandise items depicting an image virtually identical to the Illustration both in the U.S. and abroad.

"On or about March 11, 2021, Plaintiff discovered that, sometime after February 13, 2021, Defendant Merch Traffic also started promoting, licensing, selling, and distributing Infringing Products in the U.S. and abroad."

The complaint adds: "Further research revealed that some of the unauthorized uses of the Illustration on NIRVANA-branded merchandise date as far back as 1989. Further research also revealed that over the years, the band NIRVANA and parties acting on its behalf have routinely made false claims of ownership of the copyright in the Illustration by placing false copyright notices on the Infringing Products in substantially this form '© [Year] Nirvana'.

"Finally, in documents filed in two other copyright actions before this Court, Defendant NIRVANA has implied that Kurt Cobain created the Illustration or, in the alternative, that the Illustration is in the public domain in the United States, and that, therefore, NIRVANA and its licensees are free to use it without authorization or compensation. NIRVANA and some of the other Defendants have maintained this position in their responses to Plaintiff’s continuing requests to cease their wrongful conduct in the U.S. and abroad."

This is not the only copyright-infringement battle NIRVANA is currently involved in. For the past three years, NIRVANA has been embroiled in a long-running legal clash against fashion company Marc Jacobs over its "happy face" t-shirt designs. NIRVANA's dispute with Marc Jacobs centers on a design featuring a squiggly yellow smiley face, which is very similar to the trademark owned by the band since 1992. The Marc Jacobs version features an M and a J instead of Xs for its eyes (as in the NIRVANA version),and it reads "HEAVEN" instead of "NIRVANA" in a typeface similar to the band's font.

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