Courtney Love, Activision, and a whole lot of Self Righteousness

September 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

There was a period in my life when all I listened to was Nirvana. Blame it on teenage angst, or simply the friends I had at the time, but whatever the reason, I still looked up at Kurt Cobain as an idol. He was to me the perfect rockstar, ostensibly running from fame at every turn, writing – admittedly pop – songs filled with his pain and despair, and an inspiration to an entire generation of people.

In short, I’m a bit of a Nirvana fanboy, which might surprise you when you hear my views on this whole Guitar Hero 5 scandal.

In case you haven’t heard, the story so far is thus.

Shortly after Guitar Hero 5’s release videos started popping up on YouTube of Kurt Cobain – former front man of grunge band Nirvana – performing songs in the game that were not his own. These songs were not only not by Nirvana themselves, but were also by bands with an image as far away from Nirvana as you can possibly get. Kurt Cobain, as most people know, killed himself in 1994, which raises the important question: is this use of his likeness an insult to his memory?

Courtney Love, formerly Cobain’s wife, certainly seems to think so. Very quickly her Twitter page exploded with her publicly promising to sue Activision for what they’ve done. Activision have responded by saying how consensual, and importantly, legal, the use of Kurt’s likeness is.

The first problem here is just how self righteous Love is being. After all, as his former spouse, she must have a very big say in business deals relating to her late husband’s likeness. To claim now that she’s unhappy with how this has panned out is absurd, especially if Activision’s claim that she collaborated with them on his character design is to be believed.

It’s also obvious that it’s going to be in a document somewhere exactly how the likeness rights are going to be used, complete with Courtney Love’s signature at the bottom. Let’s not forget, Activision are a huge company, with a likely huge legal department. Errors that could get them sued are simply not going to be allowed to be made, if they were then the company wouldn’t be as successful as they are.

There are many out there who believe, quite rightly, that this issue is a moral rather than a legal one. Would Kurt Cobain, had been alive today, have approved of such a deal? I’d really love to believe that he wouldn’t, but over the years I’ve seen so many rockstars who had formerly held such anti-establishment views, bow down and do anything for a paycheck. Jonny Rotten, lead singer of the Sex Pistols, advertises Country Life butter. Iggy Pop is the frontman for Swift Cover car insurance. My point? Times change, people grow up, and as a result their views about ‘selling out’ change with them.

Regardless of whether Kurt would, or would not, want to have his likeness used in this way today, the fact remains that during his life he ‘sold out’ plenty. Nirvana’s first single, ‘Love Buzz’ wasn’t a big hit, and so a half hour after delivering the recording to a local radio station, during which time no one rang in to request the song, Kurt phoned up the radio station himself and requested it. Cobain, or at least a part of him, wanted to be famous, even if publicly this was something he claimed to loath.

I agree that the use of his image in the game is less than ideal, even a little insulting, but the legal objections to it are none existent, and the moral one’s a little dubious. To save face many people, me included, would hope that Activision choose to lock his image to Nirvana-specific songs, but if they don’t, you shouldn’t think that anyone else is in the right. I hate to say it, but it’s just business.


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