The surviving members of NIRVANA as well as the estate of Kurt Cobain have been sued by Spencer Elden, the man who claims he was the baby featured on the cover of the band's "Nevermind" album. Elden alleges the image of the baby reaching for a dollar in a swimming pool violated federal child pornography statutes and argues child sexual exploitation.
In the complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, which also names photographer Kirk Weddle and the various record companies behind the album's release, Elden claims that his "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."
According to the suit, the defendants "knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so. … Despite this knowledge, defendants failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking."
Elden claims that his parents never signed a release authorizing the use of the photos, which were taken in a Pasadena aquatic center in 1990. He alleges that the band promised to cover his genitals with a sticker, which was never incorporated into the album art.
"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," the complaint states.
The suit further alleges the 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."
Elden is seeking damages of either $150,000 from each of the 17 defendants or unspecified damages to be determined at trial, attorney fees, an injunction to prohibit all parties "from continuing to engage in the unlawful acts and practices described herein," and a trial by jury.
"The permanent harm he has proximately suffered includes but is not limited to extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations, interference with his normal development and educational progress, lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses to be described and proven at trial of this matter," the lawsuit states.
Elden's parents were reportedly paid only $200 for the photos, and the shoot lasted around 15 seconds.
In a 2016 interview with Time magazine, Elden said: "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.
"It's hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved," Elden added. "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."
"Nevermind" has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and was certified diamond by the RIAA for sales in excess of 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.