Who Owns the Rights to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain Intellectual Property?
Who owns the rights to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain intellectual property? 27 years after Cobain's death, the band's work continues to make millions.
The alternative rock group Nirvana still comes up in the news long after the death of its iconic guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kurt Cobain. Since Cobain’s death in 1994, there have been multiple lawsuits about the legal rights to the band, its intellectual property, and Cobain's name and likeness.
The band's original members included Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, with drummer Dave Grohl joining after the release of its first album. Some of the group’s albums were Bleach, released in 1989, Nevermind in 1991, and In Utero, released in 1994.
Nirvana rights lawsuits over the years
The band’s legendary status was further cemented by the spate of legal disputes that occurred following Cobain's death and dissolution of the group.
Courtney Love, Cobain's widow, sued his former bandmates Grohl and Novoselic in 2001. The limited liability corporation, or LLC, that formed in 1997 called Nirvana LLC, was a legal vehicle for division of the band’s assets among the remaining members and Love.
Love’s lawsuit requested that Nirvana LLC be dissolved, largely due to the way that the LLC was forcing the three of them to make decisions together. She claimed that Grohl and Novoselic would constantly vote against her wishes for the LLC. Grohl and Novoselic countersued against Love to attempt to remove her entirely from the LLC, according to ABCNews.
By 2006, the lawsuits had been settled, Love still owned Cobain’s publishing rights, and Nirvana LLC was still intact. Love sold 50 percent of her rights to Primary Wave Music Publishing for $19.5 million.
However, other lawsuits followed. Love claimed she hadn’t signed over the rights for Nirvana music to be featured in movies or other media. She sued Primary Wave when a song was featured in a Muppets movie.
In April 2014, at Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Love appeared to have reconciled with Grohl and Novoselic.
According to UltimateGuitar.com, both Grohl and Novoselic currently earn 12.5 percent of royalties from 11 Nirvana songs. The way the remainder of the money is distributed is complicated.
Most of the proceeds from Nirvana’s and Cobain’s work likely goes to Frances Bean (Cobain’s daughter with Love), Primary Wave, or Universal (which absorbed DGC Records—the label that produced the band’s second and third popular albums).
“Nevermind” baby photo lawsuit
Another legal battle for the long-dissolved grunge band has just popped up. The man who was pictured on the cover of the band’s Nevermind album when he was a baby is suing for alleged sexual exploitation.
Currently, Spencer Elden, who was an infant when he was photographed nude in a swimming pool for the photo that became the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, is suing 15 defendants for damages of $150,000 each. Those involved include Grohl, Novoselic, Love, and others involved in Nirvana like the photographer Kirk Weddle.
Elden claims that he “has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages” due to his exploitation as a baby, according to BBC. However, on occasion he has admitted that his participation in the album cover “opened doors for me.”