Heir Of British Artist Sues Nirvana Over Unauthorized Dante’s “Inferno” Hell Map
It’s not every day somebody sues Nirvana, but that’s exactly what happened on April 28. That’s the day when, as Blabbermouth points out, Jocelyn Susan Bundy sued Nirvana LLC, Silva Artist Management LLC, Live Nation Merchandise LLC, and its Merch Traffic LLC unit. The suit alleges that since 1997, Nirvana has been using an image by Bundy’s grandfather — C.W. Scott-Giles, a prominent 20th century British writer specializing in heraldry — without permission on shirts, mugs, records, and other merch sold at major retailers like Walmart, H&M, and Hot Topic.
The image is a map of the circles of hell as described in Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, specifically the “Inferno” section. Bundy’s lawsuit alleges that Nirvana and Live Nation have been using the image without permission and even claiming copyright over it. Although Bundy is officially suing for merch released since 1997, her suit accuses the band of illegally using her grandfather’s drawing as early as 1989. At one point her complaint reads, “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.” The image above is from Hot Topic, where shirts with the design are currently out of stock. Vintage editions are, unsurprisingly, very pricey.
Here’s an excerpt from the lawsuit:
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.
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.
Reddit users were wondering where the image came from back in 2016. The surviving members of Nirvana are no strangers to copyright law. In 2018 they sued designer Marc Jacobs for allegedly copying their smiley face logo.