Marc Jacobs are reportedly countersuing Nirvana over ongoing ‘smiley face logo’ dispute

The band accuse the fashion house of ripping off their iconic happy face logo.

Marc Jacobs is reportedly countersuing Nirvana over an ongoing dispute surrounding the iconic ‘smiley face’ logo associated with the grunge icons.

Earlier this month (November 15), Nirvana were given permission to proceed with a lawsuit against Marc Jacobs, after a judge turned down the fashion house’s request to dismiss the complaint.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the band’s representatives last December, centres around a Marc Jacobs T-shirt which the band say rips off their iconic happy face logo.


The T-shirt was part of Marc Jacobs’ ‘Bootleg Redux Grunge’ collection and features what appears to be a doctored version of the iconic logo. Instead of X’s for eyes, it has the letters M and J – the initials of the iconic fashion brand.

Above the smiley face, the word ‘Nirvana’ is also replaced by the word ‘Heaven’, printed in a type face that isn’t entirely dissimilar to the font used by the band on their merchandise.

In their lawsuit, the band accused the fashion line of copyright and trademark infringement, as well as unfair competition. The band also alleged that Marc Jacobs used the logo to “mislead the public into falsely believing that Nirvana endorses the entire ‘Bootleg Redux Grunge’ collection…when Nirvana has not done so.”

Now, the fashion designers have countersued. In their claim, the designers state: “The apparent absence of any living person with first-hand knowledge of the creation of the allegedly copyrighted work in question, coupled with numerous other deficiencies in the 166 Registration that is the basis for Nirvana’s infringement claim are the basis for the counterclaim asserted.”

Nirvana's Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain during the taping of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in 1993.

Earlier this month (November 15), US Judge John Kronstadt said that Marc Jacobs did not have sufficient grounds to dismiss the suit and that Nirvana’s original complaint was enough to push the case forward. In his ruling, he wrote that the only “discernible difference” between the two shirts is the use of the letters M and J for eyes instead of X’s.


He also said that the Marc Jacobs shirts “have combined this protectable artwork [the happy face] with other distinctive elements of the Nirvana T-shirt, including through the use of yellow lines on black background and a similar type and placement for the text above the image on the clothing.”

He added that “the issue presented as to likelihood of confusion is not whether the marks are identical. It is whether they are sufficiently similar ‘in their entirety’ to make confusion likely… Whether a fact-finder may ultimately conclude that certain distinctions ‘render the marks dissimilar’ cannot be resolved through the motion.”

In their original attempt to dismiss the suit, Marc Jacobs acknowledged that the design was “inspired by vintage Nirvana concert T-shirts from the 1990s,” but argued their shirt was unique because the happy face was “reinterpreted” to include Marc Jacobs branding in the M and J as eyes.

Last month, the green cardigan Kurt Cobain wore during Nirvana‘s iconic MTV Unplugged performance sold at auction for $334,000 (£260,000).

Aside from the sale amount exceeding expectations – it was estimated to sell at somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 – it is also now the most expensive cardigan ever sold at auction.

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