Music / September 5, 2022

Nirvana wins lawsuit over Nevermind baby album cover

Image: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy
Music / September 5, 2022

Nirvana wins lawsuit over Nevermind baby album cover

Words: Ellen Kenny

It’s always embarrassing when your parents show off your baby photos. Imagine if 30 million copies of your photo was sold worldwide by Nirvana.

Nirvana have won a lawsuit put against them by Spencer Elden, the baby on the cover of their 1991 album Nevermind. He claimed the use of the image constituted sexual child abuse and sought 130,000 pounds in damages.

US judge Fernando Olguin dismissed the case, stating that it was past the ten-year statute of limitations. Elden intends to appeal this dismissal.

Elden first sued the living members of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain’s estate, and photographer Kirk Weddle in 2021. This first suit was thrown out of court after Elden failed to respond to the defendants’ request to dismiss the case. Elden then refiled for a lawsuit in January 2022.

A defence lawyer for the band described Elden’s case as “meritless”. The defendants had previously argued that Elden had “spent three decades profiting from his celebrity as the self-anointed ‘Nirvana Baby’”. Elden recreated the image for the album’s 15th and 25th anniversaries. Elden also has a tattoo of the word Nevermind on his chest.

This is the fourth time Elden has filed a lawsuit against Nirvana.

Image: John Chapple/Splash News

The Nirvana Baby’s origins

In 1991, Spencer Elden’s parents were asked by photographer Kirk Weddle if he could use their months-old baby in a photoshoot for a rising band called Nirvana. Weddle took the photo at Pasadena Aquatic Center in California. He also photoshopped a dollar attached to a hook into the photo. Elden’s parents were paid 200 dollars, and the photoshoot allegedly lasted 15 seconds.

Now, over 30 years later, Nevermind became one of the most recognisable album covers in history. It also contains one of Nirvana’s most iconic songs, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Nevermind has sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Elden has previously described his relationship with Nirvana and Nevermind as complicated. He told TIME in 2016 that he was “occasionally bitter” over the situation: “It’s hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved.”

“[When] 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.”

In 2015, Elden also spoke to the Guardian. He said, “It is a weird thing to get my head around, being part of such a culturally iconic image. But it’s always been a positive thing and opened doors for me. I’m 23 now and an artist, and this story gave me an opportunity to work with Shepard Fairey for five years, which was an awesome experience.”

Elden has never met any of the members of Nirvana.

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