Spencer Elden, the man whose baby photo was used for the album cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” sues the band on Tuesday alleging that the nude image constituted child pornography.
The cover depicts Elden as a four-month-old in a swimming pool, grasping for a dollar bill that’s being dangled in front of him on a fishing line.
Now 30, Elden says his parents never signed a release authorising the use of his image on the album.
He also alleges the nude image constitutes child pornography.
The image has generally been understood as a statement on capitalism, as it includes the digital imposition of a dollar bill on a fishhook that the baby appears to be enthusiastically swimming toward. Non-sexualized nude photos of infants are generally not considered child pornography under law.
Elden alleges his “true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day”.
He claims he “has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages” as a result of the artwork, including “extreme and permanent emotional distress” as well as “interference with his normal development and educational progress” and “medical and psychological treatment”.
He is asking for damages of at least $150,000 (£109,000) from each of the 15 defendants, who include surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; the manager’s of Kurt Cobain’s estate; Cobain’s former wife Courtney Love; and photographer Kirk Weddle.
“Defendants intentionally commercially marketed Spencer’s child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense,” reads the lawsuit, filed in the U.S.
District Court’s central district of California and obtained by Variety. “Defendants used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention, wherein album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews.”
The cover art subject — who, like the “Nevermind” album itself, is now 30 — is asking at least $150,000 from each of the defendants, who include include surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; 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.