As reported on Billboard, Robert Fisher, a freelance graphic designer, filed a motion on September 13 claiming he was the rightful creator and owner of the design.
Fisher’s legal representative, Inge De Bruyn, told Billboard that he had learned recently that the group were “misattributing the illustration to Kurt Cobain.”
De Bruyn added: “He was also not aware that, back in 1993, Nirvana, Inc. registered the copyright for the Happy Face t-shirt design, naming itself as the author. Robert has always been a rather private person and not one to wear his achievements on his sleeve.
“That said, there’s a clear line between people speculating about the origins and authorship of his work, and it being misattributed to someone else. Most creative people would object to that. Artists deserve proper credit for their work. Often times, it’s all they get.”
De Bruyn continued: “The rule in copyright is that the individual creator of a work is to be considered its author and original owner. That really is the basic premise. ‘Work-for-hire’ as a legal fiction forms a very limited exception to that premise.
As explained in the filings, we don’t believe that, under the law, this exception applies here. And the situation is such that if Robert does not assert his rights now, he risks losing them forever.”
In court papers reportedly seen by Billboard, Fisher says he was working as an art director at Geffen Records when he asked if he could work with Nirvana on their upcoming album design for ‘Nevermind.’ Fisher goes on to add that he became “Nirvana’s go-to person for almost all of its graphic design needs.”
Fisher also claims he received a request to design a t-shirt for the band in mid-1991 when he “started playing around with variations of the smiley faces that he used to draw in his final year at Otis College, when acid culture was at its peak.”
Nirvana’s attorney Bert H. Deixler told the Los Angeles Times that the claims were “factually and legally baseless” and would be will be “vigorously” challenged.
Last year, Nirvana became involved in another ongoing dispute about the design, this time with fashion designer Marc Jacobs.
Jacobs was sued by lawyers representing the band who claimed that his company ripped off the iconic design. Jacobs has denied the claim and countersued the band.