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Man Photographed as Baby on Nirvana Nevermind Album Cover Sues Nirvana for Child Pornography

August 25, 2021 | Posted by Ashish

Spencer Elden, who was the baby featured on the album cover for the classic Nirvana Nevermind album, has filed a lawsuit against the surviving members of the band and Kurt Cobain’s estate, along with various record labels, claiming the photograph violated child pornography laws and sexually exploited him (h/t Variety).

Elden, who is now 30, says he has suffered “lifelong damage” as a result of being shown naked on the album cover, which is widely considered to be one of the most iconic album covers of all time. He also claims that his parents did not consent to the nude photo being used.

According to Elden’s lawyer, Nirvana, the photographer who took the photo, and all the record labels involved in distributing the album, “marketed Spencer’s child pornography” to “promote themselves and their music.”

The cover is usually viewed as a statement on capitalism (it features Elden as a 4-month old baby underwater swimming towards a dollar bill on a fishhook), but Elden’s lawyer claims that the inclusion of the dollar bill makes it seem as though the baby is a sex worker, thus making it pornographic. A nude baby photograph is usually not considered pornographic unless the photo is sexualized in some way.

The lawsuit claims that the band allegedly promised to cover Elden’s penis on the album cover, but didn’t end up doing so.

It should be noted that Elden has recreated the album cover as a teenager and adult multiple times, including in 2016 when he told his photographer that he wanted to do it naked and only didn’t because the photographer told him that would be weird.

According to a 2008 NPR story, Elden’s parents were apparently paid $200 at the time for having Elden put in a pool and photographed. The photographer was a friend of Elden’s father, and according to the story, Elden’s parents didn’t think about the photograph again until a few months later when they saw a billboard for Nevermind on the Tower Records wall on Sunset Blvd. The label also ended up sending baby Elden a a platinum album and a teddy bear.

The lawsuit claims that Elden’s parents never signed a release authorizing the use of the photo, and that Elden himself never received compensation for the photo.

Over the years, Elden has sometimes seemed grateful for being on the cover and acknowledging that it had opened doors for him in the art world, but at other times has said that he was bothered by having his penis shown in such a public way without ever having a choice in the matter, and for being famous for something he has no memory of doing.

In an interview with Time Magazine five years ago, Elden expressed disappointment about the surviving band members not responding to his attempts to connect with them.

“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.”

He also expressed frustration over how much money was made off the album, and how everybody has seen his “little baby penis.”

“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved… [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.”

In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, Elden said about recreating the cover again:

“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.”

The lawsuit is seeking $150,000 from each of the defendants, which include Nirvana surviving member David Grohl and Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, the photographer who took the photo, and various record labels.

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Nirvana, Ashish