- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Spencer Elden, a 30-year-old California man who was the iconic naked baby on the cover of the 1991 Nirvana album “Nevermind,” has sued the band’s surviving members for child pornography and sexual exploitation.

Robert Y. Lewis filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Elden in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday, one month shy of the 30th anniversary of the release of “Nevermind,” one of the most successful albums ever.

The cover art for “Nevermind” shows the plaintiff as a 4-month-old infant swimming toward a dollar bill dangling from a fish hook while submerged underwater completely naked with his penis exposed.

Mr. Lewis alleges the image depicts child pornography and filed a 35-page complaint accusing the defendants of having sexually exploited the infant for commercial gain in violation of several federal laws.

“Spencer’s 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,” the lawyer wrote.

“Neither Spencer nor his legal guardians ever signed a release authorizing the use of any images of Spencer or of his likeness, and certainly not of commercial child pornography depicting him,” he added.

Mr. Spencer has allegedly suffered from extreme and permanent emotional distress as a result of the image and is seeking damages of at least $150,000 from each of 15 different defendants named in the civil suit.

Defendants include Nirvana LLC and the band’s surviving members, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, as well as the widow and estate of late singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain, who died from suicide in 1994.

Mr. Spencer is also suing Nirvana‘s label and its parent companies, as well as the photographer and art director who made the image. Original Nirvana drummer Chris Channing, whom Mr. Grohl replaced in 1990, is named as well.

Court filings did not list any lawyers for the defendants who could be reached for comment.

Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The lawsuit alleges the photo depicts the plaintiff “like a sex worker– grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed.”

“Nevermind,” Nirvana‘s second studio album, was released on Sept. 24, 1991. It includes the band’s first hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as well as other singles including “Come as You Are” and “Lithium.”

Nirvana has sold around 30 million copies of “Nevermind” in the decades since its release, making its cover art and particularly the plaintiff’s naked image among the most recognizable in rock music.

Mr. Spencer has never been compensated for the cover art, his lawyer wrote in the lawsuit. His father previously said the family was paid $200 to participate in the photo shoot.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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