Nirvana win copyright lawsuit over 1989 ‘Vestibule’ T-shirt design

The accuser is now exploring further options, including re-filing the lawsuit in UK court

Nirvana have beat a lawsuit that claims one of their most recognisable T-shirt designs is based on a copyrighted illustration of Dante’s ‘Inferno’.

On Thursday (October 21), U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer ruled to dismiss the case against Nirvana and Live Nation’s merchandise unit, which concerned the band’s ‘Vestibule’ t-shirt.

The shirt design features a map of the circles of hell, as described by 14th century writer Dante Alighieri in the Inferno section of his epic poem The Divine Comedy. It was first released back in 1989, coinciding with the band’s debut album ‘Bleach’.

Back in May, Jocelyn Susan Bundy filed a suit against Nirvana for copyright infringement, alleging that her grandfather Charles-Wilfrid Scott-Giles created the image as part of his 20th century academic work on heraldry.

Bundy was officially suing the distribution of the T-shirt and image in question from 1997, despite its initial release eight years prior. Her lawsuit claimed the ‘Vestibule’ image was “virtually identical” to her grandfather’s ‘Inferno’-inspired illustration, titled ‘Upper Hell’.

Thursday’s court hearing saw Judge Fischer state the case would be better suited to the British legal system, than a Californian court room. He wrote: “Given that one of the core disputes in this case concerns ownership of the copyright in the Illustration, which is governed by UK law, the UK likely has a stronger interest, on balance, in this case.”

Inge De Bruyn – Bundy’s attorney – told Billboard they are “currently evaluating all options, including refiling the case in UK court.”

Back in August, Nirvana was sued by Spencer Elden who, as a baby, posed on the cover art of 1991 release ‘Nevermind’. Elden opened up the lawsuit against the surviving members of the band, along with the estate of Kurt Cobain, amongst others, alleging use of that image was “commercial child sexual exploitation”.

As of last month (September), Elden’s demands included Universal Music censoring the image of his genitals from the cover of the 30th anniversary reissue of ‘Nevermind’, with his lawyer requesting the label “end this child exploitation and violation of privacy.”

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