Spencer Elden, the man who appeared on Nirvana’s iconic “Nevermind” album cover as a baby, has reignited his legal battle against the seminal grunge band, alleging the image “constitutes child pornography.”
After a California judge granted a motion Jan. 4 to dismiss Elden’s child pornography lawsuit, first filed in U.S. District Court in August, Elden’s legal team was granted “one last opportunity” to file an amended version by Thursday.
The reopened and amended lawsuit, filed Wednesday, includes new “images and materials which reveal the ‘Nevermind’ creators’ deliberate choices to commercialize and exploit the sexually explicit photo lasciviously depicting Spencer’s genitals,” Elden’s attorneys said in a press release obtained by USA TODAY.
“This unprecedented album cover is perhaps the first and only time a child’s full-frontal nudity has been used to sell a product,” Elden’s attorneys said in a statement. “Spencer’s image constitutes child pornography and each of the Nirvana Defendants robbed our client of his dignity and privacy.”
Elden’s refiled lawsuit, obtained by USA TODAY Thursday, once again names band members Dave Grohl, Chad Channing, Krist Novoselic and the late Kurt Cobain, whom Elden accuses of knowingly producing, possessing and advertising “commercial child pornography” when they put a nude photo of him as a baby on the “Nevermind” album cover.
Elden’s attorneys allege he “will continue to suffer damages as long as the violations described above persist.”
USA TODAY has reached out to U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin and Nirvana’s representatives for comment.
“During the 10 years preceding the filing of this action, each Defendant intentionally commercially marketed the child pornography depicting Spencer and leveraged the lascivious nature of his image to promote the ‘Nevermind’ album, the band, and Nirvana’s music, while earning, at a minimum tens of millions of dollars in the aggregate,” the lawsuit alleges.
Elden asks for a trial by jury and $150,000 from each of the 17 defendants, including former Nirvana members along with Cobain’s widow and estate executor, Courtney Love, the album’s photographer and designer, and record companies Universal Music Group, Geffen, Warner and MCA Music.
The lawsuit alleges Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl purposefully chose the image of Elden with his penis visible, reaching for a dollar bill dangling from a fishhook “like a sex worker.”
Elden also claims the band continues to reproduce, distribute and advertise the allegedly pornographic image, citing the 30th-anniversary release of “Nevermind” in September 2021, which contained the same explicit cover.
“As long as the entertainment industry prioritizes profits over childhood privacy, consent, and dignity, our client will continue his pursuit for awareness and accountability,” Elden’s attorneys said in a statement Thursday.
Elden previously recreated the cover to celebrate the 15th and 25th anniversaries of the album’s release. In 2016, he told the New York Post he volunteered to do his latest iteration of the cover naked, but the photographer “thought that would be weird.”
He spoke positively of the cover a year prior, speaking in 2015 to USA TODAY at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, which displayed the “Nevermind” album cover in an exhibit titled “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.”
Photographer Kirk Weddle, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with graphic designer Robert Fisher, was tasked with shooting the cover photo for what would become Nirvana’s breakthrough album. He was friends with Elden’s parents and asked if their 4-month-old baby could be part of the shoot.
“My dad was like, ‘Ah, no problem, man. We’ll just go down to the pool and throw him (in) and that’ll be it,’ ” Elden recalled. “And it was no big deal. And no one knew what it was going to become.”
His parents were paid $200, he said. To date, the album has sold more than 30 million copies, according to the complaint, which also claims neither Elden nor his parents ever signed a release authorizing his images.
“It’s only opened doors for me and been a really positive, fun experience,” Elden said in the 2015 interview.
Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff