What If You Don’t? Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Own The Rights To Your Art

Photo Credit to TMZ

Article by Megan Vineberg

Back in 1993, legendary punk/grunge band Nirvana needed artwork for their upcoming album. This album would later come to be known as the one with the nude baby boy trying to grab hold of a dollar underwater. Robert Fisher, a graphic design artist based in California, worked with the band on this cover. He was at the time working at Geffen Records, and he heard the label was going to sign Nirvana and wanted to help create the artwork. As it turns out, this was the artwork they went with. Moreover, the band needed merchandise designs for their branding: t-shirts, logo, etc. This was then how the smiley face that we know and love came about.

Fisher went all in on detailing just how he created the design: he used tracing paper initially, stating that he “dabbled with a bunch of different smiley face designs, inspired by the popularization of LSD.” He used yellow and gold felt tip pens for the overall design and went with those colors for printing. Fisher says he “blew up the image on a xerox machine, creating the squiggly lines.” Onyx font was used for the band’s The design we know today is not how it was originally intended to be created but it made sales history. So much so that high-end brand Marc Jacobs picked up the design, miscrediting Nirvana as the designer and owner of the work. The brand was inspired by Fisher’s work on the vintage t-shirt designs and re-interpreted it for themselves by adding MJ, standing for Marc Jacobs, to the eyes where the x’s used to be.

“Nirvana and Marc Jacobs had been in litigation for years over these claims, and with Nirvana not even as the true owner of the work,” as Fisher’s lawyer Inge Debrune states in an interview with Billboard. Fisher, not one to boast, had been in the dark about the claims and had no idea that Marc Jacobs was misattributing his work to the band or that Nirvana, Inc. had filed for copyright as owner of the work. As it stands, Fisher is fighting for the rights to his own work that he may never receive.

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