Spencer Elden, who appeared on the iconic cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, filed a lawsuit against the band alleging that the nude image of him as a baby constitutes child pornography, reported Variety.
Elden sought damages worth $150,000 from each of the defendants that includes surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic.
The album cover depicted a naked four-month old Elden in a swimming pool, trying to grab a note stuck to a fishhook. While was generally taken as a depiction of capitalism, Elden’s lawyer Robert Y. Lewis has argued that the inclusion of the note made Elden appear “like a sex worker.”
According to the lawsuit, “[Kurt] Cobain chose the image depicting Spencer — like a sex worker — grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed”.
Apart from the surviving band members, the list of defendants also comprised Courtney Love, the executor of Kurt Cobain’s estate, Guy Oseary and Heather Parry, managers of Cobain’s estate, photographer Kirk Weddle, art director Robert Fisher, and a number of existing or defunct record companies that released or distributed the album in the last three decades.
According to a fan-page, underwater photographer Weddle contacted Eldens’ parents to ask for his inclusion in the photo-shoot. At the time, Elden’s father helped with sets, custom rigging and props for photo shoots, which is how he got to know Weddle.
However, the complaint claims that Elden’s parents never consented to the use of his image.
“Neither Spencer nor his legal guardians ever signed a release authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him,” read the suit.
Speaking to NPR, Elden said that his family was paid $200 for the photo-shoot that went on to grace the cover of millions of copies sold worldwide. It was not until three months later that the Elden family spotted a 9-foot-by-9-foot Spencer floating across a wall.
Elden, now 30-years-old, has recreated the iconic cover for the 17th, 20th, and the 25th anniversaries of the record.
Talking about the 25th anniversary with the New York Post in 2016, Elden said, “The anniversary means something to me. It’s strange that I did this for five minutes when I was 4 months old and it became this really iconic image. …. It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember.”
However, the same year, while speaking to the Time magazine, Elden said that he was “upset” while growing up.
“I was trying to reach out to these people. I never met anybody. I didn’t get a call or email. I just woke up already being a part of this huge project. It’s pretty difficult — you feel like you’re famous for nothing, but you didn’t really do anything but their album.”
Notably, matter involving minors can be deemed obscene under the US child pornography law if “the image lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” However, non-sexualized nude photos of infants are generally not considered child pornography under law.