The heir of British artist C.W Scott-Giles is suing Nirvana for using her grandfather’s artwork on their merchandise. The artwork in question, known as Dante’s Inferno, depicts a map of Upper Hell in the form of a stack of circles. It was originally used in the first part of Italian writer Dante Aligheri’s 14th-century poem Divine Comedy.
The artwork is now however arguably more well known for its link to the band, through its use on merchandise such as shirts, mugs and vinyl records, sold at the likes of Walmart, H&M and Hot Topic.
Scott-Giles' heir, Jocelyn Susan Bundy, has sued Nirvana LLC, Live Nation Merchandise LLC and its Merch Traffic LLC unit, along with Silva Artist Management LLC on April 28 for copyright infringement.
The complaint from Bundy 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 statement 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'.
“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,” and also noted in the legal documents that “Defendant Nirvana has implied that Kurt Cobain created the Illustration.”
This is the third lawsuit the band has seen in recent years. In 2018, the band clashed with fashion designer Marc Jacobs for using their iconic smiley face logo on a t-shirt in his Bootleg Redux Grunge collection, infringing copyright. They are also in the midst of suing former Geffen Records designer Robert Fisher who claims he created the smiley face design. Nirvana LLC have said that the late Kurt Cobain created the idea, assigning the copyright to the band’s company after his death in 1994.