Naked Baby in Nirvana Album Cover Claims Exploitation, Loss of Privacy

Photo: (Photo : JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

In 1991, rock band Nirvana released their best-selling album, "Nevermind," featuring a naked baby swimming in the pool and going after a dollar on a fish hook. Spencer Elden was the 4-month-old baby on that iconic album cover. Now at 30 years old, Elden is suing the rock band and the studios for child pornography and exploitation.

For over two decades, Elden took part in celebrating the album's anniversary by recreating the famous cover, albeit with clothes on, for its 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. In the last recreation, Elden said in an interview that it was "cool but weird" to be a part of "something so important" to rock music.

But in a lawsuit filed in a California court Tuesday, Elden alleged that the Nirvana band members -- David Grohl, Krist Novoselic, the late Kurt Cobain, and his widow Courtney Love -- "profited" from his image as a naked baby. The lawsuit also named photographer Kirk Weddle and at least four recording studios as defendants.

He accused the people behind "Nevermind" of commercial child pornography, causing permanent harm, emotional distress, and "lifelong loss of income-earning capacity." Speaking with the New York Times, Maggie Mabie, one of Elden's lawyers, said that everyone her client met had seen his genitalia. For Elden, the album cover constantly reminds him of the privacy he has lost because the album was advertised continuously over the years.

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Elden is asking $150,00 each from all of the defendants. His parents, who were friends of the photographer, were paid just $200 for the photo. Mabie said that her client realized when he became much older that his participation in the anniversary celebrations was compounding on his naked baby image's exploitation.

Sticker Idea Didn't Stick

According to the lawsuit, there was some pushback about having Elden's genitals exposed fully during the discussion of the cover. Cobain, who died in 1994, had a plan to put a sticker on the baby's penis, but the idea was dropped for some reason.

Elden's parents also didn't sign any release authorizing their friend to use his photo. Another lawyer, Robert Lewis, told NPR that his "true identity and legal name" are "forever tied" to the "Nevermind" album cover.

However, there were a few times when Elden became mad that people still talk about his naked body. He told GQ Australia in 2016 that he wasn't okay with people seeing his penis, but he did not have any choice at that time. In 2015, he told Time that he was upset because he became "famous for nothing," and the only reason he gets interviews is because of the album cover.

Deserving of Compensation

While he tried to reach out to the band and their people, he never got a response. Elden, an artist, said his feelings began to change sometime after those interviews, and he started talking to lawyers and managers.

In 2019, Weddle, who remains in contact with Elden and his family, told The Guardian he used to wonder if the family should be compensated for the photo. He said that when Elden was 16 years old, he was very conflicted about this naked baby photo.

"He feels that everybody made money off it and he didn't," the photographer said. "I think he deserves something."

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