Nirvana win T-shirt copyright claim – for now…

Written by Charlotte Owens | November 8, 2021


Nirvana have been in the news a lot recently regarding their involvement in legal claims – most notoriously against the famous ‘Nevermind baby’ Spencer Elden – but they have also been fighting a copyright claim behind the scenes in relation to their famous ‘Vestibule’ T-shirt.

The T-shirt, which has been sold and distributed since 1989, features the classic NIRVANA wording with a drawing underneath it, which is made up of circles and phrases.

A US lawsuit was recently filed by Jocelyn Bundy who alleged that Nirvana had copied the drawing from her grandfather’s work ‘Upper Hell’, which according to her, was identical to the image depicted on the famous Nirvana shirt.

However, the US judge concluded that, as her grandfather’s work had originated in the UK, the case would be more suitable for the English court system. Bundy’s lawyers are now rethinking their tactics, and so there is a chance this case will revive again in the English court system to be evaluated under English copyright law – to be continued.

Copyright is an intellectual property right which subsists automatically in artistic works – meaning you don’t need to register it anywhere, which can be beneficial as it is a cost effective, but can prove difficult when it comes to enforcement. Once created, copyright then lasts for 70 years after the death of the author, which is why Nirvana are not in the clear in terms of timing.

Copyright can be a complicated area of law, but we are here to help. If you have any concerns or queries about copyright law and how best to protect your intellectual property in general, our specialist lawyers here at Briffa would be happy to offer you an initial free consultation – simply contact us at or on 020 7096 2779.

Written by Charlotte Owens, Solicitor

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