Nirvana’s music is owned by a multiplicity of music companies and people. Primary Wave, Universal (former DGC Records), Nirvana, LLC, and Francis Bean Cobain, the daughter of Kurt Cobain, all own a share of Nirvana’s rights.
DGC Records and Nirvana
Nirvana signed their first recording contract with DGC Records soon after leaving Sub Pop, giving the label 90% of their rights. Kurt Cobain decided that since he did the majority of the songwriting, he deserved 75% of the split.
In the case of Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, their portion was split into 12.5%, but only of the eleven songs that they were credited with. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Aneurysm,” for example, are two of the eleven songs from which Dave and Krist received royalties.
Now DGC is under the parent company Universal Music Group, and it is unclear whether the terms of Nirvana’s contract with DGC are still the same.
Courtney Love and Nirvana, LLC
After Kurt Cobain died in 1994, Nirvana ceased being a band and instead transformed into a business named Nirvana, LLC. The members of the band kept their ownership percentages, but Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s wife, got his portion.
With Nirvana, LLC, the band members can control and manage the rights to their music, including the right to license the songs for commercial use. However, Courtney has been against Dave and Krist’s decision to allow the company to sell Nirvana merchandise, and she has tried multiple times to take control of the catalog. But her efforts have been blocked by the company’s principals and their lawyers.
Her ownership of Nirvana’s rights made her a target for criticism, as many people accused her of exploiting the band to make money. However, when she finally got overwhelmed with managing the catalog, she ultimately sold off 50% of Kurt’s rights to Primary Wave Music for $19.5 million. Since then, the company has sold off licensing rights to other labels.
Additionally, in 2010, Love handed the rest of the remaining shares to Francis Bean Cobain, Kurt’s daughter. Now, Nirvana is jointly owned by Bean and the members of the band.
The rights are still being contested by different parties. No single person or company has full ownership of the band’s catalog. But many groups have partial ownership. While Francis Bean controls some shares, the majority is distributed between Primary Wave, Universal (DGC Records), and Nirvana, LLC.