Nirvana Wins Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Over 1989 ‘Vestibule’ T-Shirt Design

Nirvana has beaten a lawsuit that claims one of their most recognizable t-shirt designs is based on a copyrighted illustration of Dante’s “Inferno.”

On Thursday, October 21, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer decided to dismiss the case against Nirvana and Live Nation’s merchandise unit, which involved the band’s “Vestibule” t-shirt.

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

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

Bundy was officially continuing to distribute the t-shirt and image in question from 1997, despite its initial release eight years prior. His lawsuit claimed the “Vestibule” image was “virtually identical” to his grandfather’s “Inferno”-inspired illustration, titled “Upper Hell.”

Nirvana’s ‘Vestibule’ t-shirt CREDIT: Amazon

Thursday’s hearing saw Judge Fischer say the case would be better suited to the UK legal system than a California courtroom. He wrote: “Given that one of the main disputes in this case concerns ownership of the copyright in the illustration, which is governed by UK law, the UK probably has a stronger interest, in whole, in this matter.”

Inge De Bruyn – Bundy’s lawyer – said Billboard they are “currently assessing all options, including bringing the case to a UK court”.

In August, Nirvana was sued by Spencer Elden who, as a baby, posed on the cover of the 1991 release “Nevermind.” Elden opened the lawsuit against the surviving members of the group, as well as the estate of Kurt Cobain, among others, alleging that the use of this image was “commercial sexual exploitation of children”.

As of last month (September), Elden’s demands included Universal Music censoring the image of his genitals from the cover of the 30th anniversary re-release of “Nevermind”, his attorney requesting the label “end the exploitation of children and invasion of privacy”.

Elizabeth J. Harless