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Man photographed as baby for Nirvana 'Nevermind' cover sues band, alleges child pornography

The lawsuit claims the band used the image of Spencer Elden on its iconic 1991 album cover "to promote themselves and their music at his expense."

Spencer Elden, who was photographed as a baby, naked, swimming toward a $1 bill on a fish hook on the iconic 1991 Nirvana "Nevermind" album cover, is suing the band and others, claiming child pornography and child sexual exploitation. 

The lawsuit, published by Pitchfork, alleges that neither Elden, who was 4 months old at the time, nor his guardians ever signed a release authorizing use of images of him.

According to reports from several entertainment industry websites and court documents, Elden's attorney claims that lead singer Kurt Cobain "chose the image depicting Spencer -- like a sex worker -- grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of (Elden's) nude body with his penis explicitly displayed."

The lawsuit alleges the band "commercially marketed Spencer's child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense."

Photographer Kirk Weddle told TIME in 2015 that he got a call from Geffen art director Robert Fisher asking if Weddle had a photo of a baby underwater. Fisher eventually asked Weddle to shoot the cover, according to Weddle.

"It was a great concept, a baby underwater unable to breathe, going after money on a fishhook," Weddle told TIME.

Weddle and Fisher are two of those named in the lawsuit. Also named are Nirvana, L.L.C., band members Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Chad Channing. Managers of Cobain's estate including the executor -- Cobain's widow, Courtney Love -- are also named.


Variety notes Channing is named in the lawsuit but that he was replaced by Grohl in 1990 before "Nevermind" was recorded or the cover photo was shot.

The lawsuit seeks $150,000 from each of the defendants plus attorneys fees, litigation costs and other unnamed punitive damages as deemed by the court. 

Several trade publications said they had tried reaching out to some of those who have been named in the lawsuit, but had not immediately heard back Tuesday night.

Elden has taken part in photoshoots over the years, recreating the image.

In an interview with TIME in 2016 that marked the 25th anniversary of the album's release, Elden said he hadn't yet met Grohl or Novoselic -- the two surviving members of the band -- and that he had been unable to contact them in the past. He also said he had explored, unsuccessfully, ways to seek legal action against Geffen Records.

“It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved," Elden said at the time.

As of 2016, the album had sold more than 30 million copies.

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