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The widow of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain says she plans to sue Activision over the use of her husband's likeness in Guitar Hero 5, and is joined by surviving band members in calling for changes to the game.

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

September 14, 2009

3 Min Read

The widow of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain says she plans to sue Activision over the use of her husband's likeness in Guitar Hero 5. Courtney Love said on her Twitter feed that a "breach of contract" had occurred; she referred to the publisher as a "bully" and indicated that she, on behalf of the grunge pioneer's estate, would "sue the shit out of Activision." As for Activision, it told media outlets like consumer weblog Kotaku that it obtained Love's permission to use Cobain as a playable character in the game. "Guitar Hero secured the necessary licensing rights from the Cobain estate in a written agreement signed by Courtney Love to use Kurt Cobain's likeness as a fully playable character in Guitar Hero 5," the publisher said. But Love's attorney says that Cobain's widow -- herself an accomplished musician with the 1990s band Hole -- only intended to grant Activision permission to use his name and likeness, not to allow him to appear as a character whom players could use to play any songs in the game, even non-Nirvana ones. "Activision was not given an unbridled right to use Mr. Cobain's name and likeness," attorney Keith Fink told Kotaku. Cobain is generally credited with popularizing grunge music in the 1990s with Nirvana. His best-known song, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' is widely-known in the music world as something of an anthem for its generation, and with Guitar Hero 5, Activision claims to be licensing the song for the first time in an entertainment property. In his lifetime, the media-averse singer often expressed discomfort with Nirvana's massive popularity, and opposition to the scale of the commercialization of his music, once famously refusing to play 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' at MTV's 1992 Video Music Awards in favor of the more controversial 'Rape Me,' which biographers generally agree refers to Cobain's sense of violation in the spotlight of public scrutiny. Following a struggle with substance abuse and increasing conflict in his marriage to Love, with whom he has one daughter, Cobain committed suicide in 1994, leaving a note that indicated he'd ceased to enjoy listening to and performing music. "Kurt's songs have a special and unique meaning to his fans and his image and legacy are very important to Ms. Cobain," attorney Fink told Kotaku. "The agreement Activision has with the trust doesn't allow them to use his likeness in ways that denigrate his image." "We would hope Activision would do the right thing on its own and prohibit game users from using Kurt's image to sing others songs and if they don't we expect the trust to take appropriate action to protect Mr. Cobain's image." Love is asking that Activision lock Cobain's character in the game so that players can only use him to perform his own songs, rather than allowing him to exist as an avatar that can play whatever music the player desires. The two surviving members of Nirvana, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl released a joint statement to media outlets including The Associated Press to a similar effect. "It's hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists' music alongside cartoon characters," they said. "Kurt Cobain wrote songs that hold a lot of meaning to people all over the world. We feel he deserves better."

About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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