Nirvana sued for "child sexual exploitation" by baby who was on the Nevermind album cover

25 August 2021, 12:03 | Updated: 25 August 2021, 12:17

Jazmin Duribe

By Jazmin Duribe

In the lawsuit, Spencer Elden legal team has said the defendants "knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so".

Nirvana are being sued by Spencer Elden, the baby pictured on the cover of their legendary 1991 album Nevermind, for child pornography.

Elden, who is now 30, was just four months old when he was photographed for the cover of Nevermind. Photographer Kirk Weddle asked Elden's parents if he could use their newborn baby as part of a photoshoot for the then-rising band Nirvana. Elden's parents, who were friends with Weddle, were reportedly paid only $200 for the shoot, which lasted around 15 seconds.

According to legal documents uploaded by Pitchfork, surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the estate of Kurt Cobain, Nevermind album cover photographer Kirk Weddle and designer Robert Fisher are being sued. Nirvana's drummer from 1988 to 1990, Chad Channing, and the labels responsible for the album's release, including Universal Music and Geffen Records, are also mentioned in the lawsuit filed on August 24.

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Nirvana sued for child pornography by baby on album cover
Nirvana sued for child pornography by baby on album cover. Picture: Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images, Alamy

The lawsuit claims that Elden "has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages" as a result of the defendants' "commercial child sexual exploitation of him from while he was a minor to the present day". "The images exposed Spencer's intimate body part and lasciviously displayed Spencer's genitals from the time he was an infant to the present day," the legal papers read.

"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," the lawsuit claims.

Generally, photos of infants in a non-sexual nature are not considered child pornography under US law. However, Elden's lawyer, Robert Y. Lewis, argues that because Spencer is holding a dollar bill (which was superimposed onto the image) it makes the minor seem "like a sex worker".

The legal case also alleges that Nirvana had promised to cover Elden's genitals with a sticker, which read: "If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile." This detail was mentioned in the 1993 Nirvana biography Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, however, the sticker was not used.

It also claims that Elden has never received any compensation despite the success of Nevermind which sold 30 million copies around the world and included the hits 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and 'Come As You Are'.

He is now seeking damages amounting to $150,000 from each of the 15 defendants as well as attorney’s fees and a trial by jury.

Over the years, Elden has recreated the photo shoot a number of times (with his swimming trunks on) and he has a large "Nevermind" tattoo on his chest. However, he has mixed feelings about being on the album's cover. In an interview with TIME in 2016 to mark Nevermind's 25th anniversary, Elden revealed he had pursued legal action against Geffen Records but was unsuccessful. He said: "Everyone involved in the album has tons and tons of money. I feel like I’m the last little bit of grunge rock. I'm living in my mom’s house and driving a Honda Civic."

Elden continued: "[When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: 'Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis.' I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked."