Courtney Love has blocked the surviving members of Nirvana — Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic — from releasing the band's final track, and she's suing them for control of the group's legacy.
A Seattle judge has granted Love a preliminary injunction preventing the release of a Nirvana song called "You Know You're Right," which Grohl and Novoselic planned to include on a Nirvana box set due this fall. Nirvana recorded the Kurt Cobain-penned tune in January 1994, three months before his suicide.
"The fight is over control of Nirvana," said Warren Rheaume, attorney for Grohl and Novoselic. "Hopefully Krist, Dave and Courtney will be able to work something out."
If they don't, they have a trial date of December 31, 2002.
Love's lawsuit calls the unreleased rocker "You Know You're Right" a "potential 'hit' of extraordinary artistic and commercial value." James Barber, Love's manager, claims that a release featuring "You Know You're Right" could sell 15 million copies worldwide, more than the band's landmark second album, Nevermind. He contends that sales may be one-fifth that amount without the song, documents show.
Though it is now referred to as "You Know You're Right," Nirvana performed the song live in 1993 as "On the Mountain," and Hole later played it as "You've Got No Right."
Lyrics deciphered from a live MP3 of the song include: "I just don't think it's worth it/ I don't really love her/ I don't think I want her/ Ain't gonna take to love again/ It's the way your love hurts/ It's the way you're mad again." But a source close to the Cobain estate said the lyrics on the studio recording are "vastly different" and begin with the lines "Things have never been so swell/ I have never been so well."
Love claims that under copyright laws she has "exclusive ownership of the right of publication for all unpublished songs of Kurt Cobain," and that she has not given her approval for the song to appear on the box set, which is being released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Nevermind.
Grohl and Novoselic allege that Love "maliciously" used the song to tie up the box set's release and gain leverage in her ongoing legal battle with her record company, according to court papers. Love is suing Universal Music Group, claiming major labels, acting together as an illegal trust, force artists to sign unfair contracts.
An agreement currently under dispute states that masters of the box set's 45 songs must be delivered to Geffen Records by Saturday (June 30). A spokesperson for Universal could not be reached at press time. O. Yale Lewis, Love's attorney, said the involved parties have agreed not to discuss the dispute in the press.
A King County Superior Court judge granted the injunction on June 11, ruling that Love has "a clear legal right" to withhold her consent to the song's release.
Love filed the lawsuit against Grohl, Novoselic, Nirvana L.L.C. (the band's business partnership) and Universal Music on May 7 to obtain control of Cobain's and Nirvana's legacy and estate. The court dropped Universal from the suit.
Love's lawsuit, also filed on behalf of her daughter with Cobain, Frances Bean, states: "The parties have fundamentally different concepts of how to manage the musical and artistic legacy of Kurt Cobain, resulting in a stalemate of decision making that threatens existing recordings, has stopped new releases from the Nirvana catalog ... and prevented the creation of a movie about Kurt Cobain's life."
Grohl and Novoselic claim Love is exclusively responsible for any deadlock.
Love is asking the court to dissolve the Nirvana L.L.C. partnership she entered into with Grohl and Novoselic in 1997. The limited liability company controls such band assets as unreleased music and images and requires a unanimous vote on major decisions. She claims her judgment had been "significantly impaired" when she signed on and said she was under the mistaken impression that Grohl and Novoselic could force a buyout of her interest in Cobain's publishing rights if she didn't enter into the agreement.
She claims that Nirvana "was conceived, created and sustained by Kurt Cobain. He gave the band its name, wrote the songs, played lead guitar and was lead singer." Her complaint identifies Grohl as the group's sixth drummer and downplays his and Novoselic's roles in the group, stating: "The artistic and commercial output of Nirvana was the creation of Kurt Cobain; and the general public and audience for Nirvana make no distinction between Nirvana and Kurt Cobain."
Before Cobain's death, under "pressure of Novoselic and Grohl," Nirvana's managers and lawyers drafted a proposal that would give all three bandmembers equal partnership in "certain assets associated with the group" other than publishing rights, which were fully controlled by Cobain, Love claims. When Cobain read the proposal, he threw it in the trash, according to Love's suit.
Grohl and Novoselic's legal papers assert that they "helped create Nirvana's music and artistic vision." In the documents, they characterize Love as "a complete alien to Nirvana's music and success" who is trying to deny them "any commercial exploitation of the music they created."
"The real point here is that Courtney was never a member of Nirvana," Novoselic says in one document dated June 4.
The bassist also responded to Love's contention that before Cobain's death the band's breakup was "anticipated, and there was little chance that Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic would ever perform together again."
Novoselic said Love's assertions "dishonor Nirvana and dishonor the memory of her husband." He also accused Love of fabricating details regarding Cobain in interviews.
"Given my longstanding friendship and artistic and business relationship with Kurt, it was very hard for me to read Courtney's various accounts of his life and his passing," he wrote. "Still, I wanted to remain respectful and therefore have remained silent over the years over what I saw as glaring inconsistencies."
A short RealAudio clip of "You Know You're Right" is posted at Nirvanaclub.com.