As a purveyor of IP news, there are certain stories you come across that, because of your age, make absolutely no sense to you as they pertain to the principal parties of the story. Conversely, there are other stories that, because of your age, appeal directly to you and those in your age cohort and likely no one else. The story that follows is of the latter variety.
The band Nirvana has been accused of copyright infringement by the heir and copyright holder to the work of C.W. Scott-Giles in the form of a lawsuit filed by Scott-Giles’ granddaughter Jocelyn Susan Bundy. In the suit, Bundy accuses Nirvana of infringing upon her grandfather’s illustrated depiction of several of the circles of Hell as described by Dante Alighieri in his classic work Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy.
The allegations that follow are standard in lawsuits of this type: that the band did knowingly and willfully violate the copyright, using the illustration in merchandise without paying any sort of licensing fee and even asserting copyright of their own on the drawing, claiming that it was created by the band’s late frontman Kurt Cobain or, alternately, was in the public domain. It’s further alleged that the band ignored requests to stop using the illustration in the past, presumably leaving the lawsuit as the only avenue for Bundy.
The band will no doubt have its response at the ready, asserting its right to use the illustration either as its own creation or as a work in the public domain, along the lines of what was alleged in the suit. What makes the suit interesting is that it’s over a decades-old illustration that originated from a centuries-old work of fiction, pursued against a band that has ceased to be an active musical concern since the mid-1990’s. Granted, all such suits are over existing works, else they wouldn’t yet be memorialized in a way that asserts copyright. Typically, though, you come across stories featuring artists that are still vital and near the peak of their popularity.
So why does a band that ceased to exist in 1994 still have merchandise sales enough to draw an infringement suit from a woman who rightfully feels that the band may be profiting from her grandfather’s work with said sales? I think the fault lies with me. Not me specifically — I don’t own any Nirvana merchandise— but people my age who still cling to that era as much for their lost youth as for the music. We’re keeping those merchandise sales afloat, just as boomers kept Led Zeppelin concert t-shirts a thing for decades. I suppose we owe Jocelyn Susan Bundy an apology, and ourselves a rethink on our choices.