Activision, Nirvana address Guitar Hero 5 controversy

Publisher stands by Kurt Cobain's inclusion as Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic join Courtney Love in decrying rhythm game's use of late frontman's likeness.


When Guitar Hero 5 launched, it didn't take long for gamers to realize that the game's likeness of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain could be used to sing a lot more than just "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It also didn't take long for people to get up in arms about the idea of the alternative rock icon strutting around the stage belting out Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" or Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music."

Music by Cobain. Hair by the Olsen twins.
Music by Cobain. Hair by the Olsen twins.

That prompted Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, to weigh in via her Twitter account, threatening to sue Activision and claiming she never approved the avatar's use in Guitar Hero 5. Activision has since responded with its own statement, saying, "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."

Quoted by The Guardian, Activision vice president Tim Riley offered a little more detail. Saying it was "great to work with" Love, Riley added that, "Courtney supplied us with photos and videos. She picked the wardrobe and hairstyle, which turned out to be the 'Teen Spirit' look, then we went back and forth over changes--some subtle, some not so subtle. ... [She wanted a] sort of athletic definition but not overly so."

While Cobain's widow is warning of legal action against the publisher, the singer's former bandmates are making a different sort of appeal to Activision. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, in a news post on the official site of one of Grohl's current bands, The Foo Fighters, said they were "dismayed and disappointed" in the use of Cobain's likeness in the game.

"The name and likeness of Kurt Cobain are the sole property of his estate; we have no control whatsoever in that area," the pair said. "While we were aware of Kurt's image being used with two Nirvana songs, we didn't know players have the ability to unlock the character. This feature allows the character to be used with any kind of song the player wants. We urge Activision to do the right thing in 're-locking' Kurt's character so that this won't continue in the future."

As of press time, Activision hadn't responded to a request for comment on the Grohl and Novoselic statement.

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