The man who was pictured naked as a baby on the cover of Nirvana’s iconic ‘Nevermind’ album is suing the late Kurt Cobain’s estate, the surviving band members and others – alleging child pornography and sexual exploitation.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Spencer Elden, 30, claims his parents had not signed a release authorizing the grunge-rock group to use the famous photograph – in which a four-month-old infant was pictured reaching for a dollar bill attached to a fishing hook in a swimming pool.
Elden is seeking $150,000 from each of the suit’s 15 listed defendants – including photographer Kirk Weddle, musician and Cobain estate executor Courtney Love, various record companies, art directors – for unspecified damages to be determined at a trial.
The suit claimed Elden’s “identity and legal name are forever tied” to the “commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor,” which has been distributed worldwide since the 1991 album’s commercial success. As a result, he apparently “suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages.”
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According to the lawsuit, the photo was supposedly chosen by Cobain and is meant to suggest a “sex worker grabbing for a dollar bill.” The filing described the photo as a “sex trafficking venture” in which Elden “was forced to engage in commercial sexual acts while under the age of 18 years old.”
The suit alleged that after receiving “pushback” in relation to the use of the photo, Cobain agreed to partially censor the image “with a sticker strategically placed over Spencer’s genitals” that would include the text “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile” on it.
To ensure the album cover would trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer, Weddle activated Spencer’s ‘gag reflex’ before throwing him underwater in poses highlighting and emphasizing Spencer’s exposed genitals.
According to the suit, the defendants used “child pornography depicting Spencer” as an “essential element of a record promotion scheme” commonly used in the music industry to get attention. In this alleged scheme, “album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews.”
It also claims that – despite having “knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography” depicting Elden and having “knowingly received value in exchange for doing so” – the defendants “failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking.”
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Although Elden has recreated the photo a number of times over the years, he has expressed frustration at not being compensated for his likeness. In a 2016 profile by Time magazine, Elden said he had tried to take legal action against the record label, Geffen Records, before but was “unsuccessful.”
Since its release, ‘Nevermind’ has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. After it was certified platinum, Geffen Records apparently sent Elden a platinum plaque and a teddy bear as thanks.
“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved,” Elden told Time, adding, “It’s a trip. 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.”
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