A 30-year-old man who appeared nude at four months old in 1991 on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album is suing the band and others, alleging the image is child pornography from which they have profited.
The suit, filed by Spencer Elden on Tuesday in federal court in California, alleges that Nirvana and the record labels behind Nevermind "intentionally commercially marketed Spencer's child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense".
The suit says Elden has suffered "lifelong damages" from the ubiquitous image of him naked underwater appearing to swim after a dollar bill on a fish hook.
It seeks at least $150,000 from each of more than a dozen defendants, including the Kurt Cobain estate, surviving Nirvana members Krist Novocelic and Dave Grohl and Geffen Records.
Emails seeking comment from representatives for the defendants were not immediately returned.
Elden is filing the lawsuit now because he "finally has the courage to hold these actors accountable," one of his lawyers, Maggie Mabie, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Mabie said despite the photo being 30 years old, the suit is within the statute of limitations of federal child pornography law for several reasons, including the fact that the image is still in circulation and earning money.
Elden also wants any new versions of the album altered.
"If there is a 30th anniversary re-release, he wants for the entire world not to see his genitals," Mabie said.
When the cover was shot, Nirvana was a little-known grunge band with no sense they were making a generation-defining album in Nevermind, their first major label release, whose songs included Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come as You Are and Lithium.
Elden's father was a friend of the photographer, Kirk Weddle, who took pictures of several swimming babies in several scenarios at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena, California.
"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 his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed," the lawsuit says.
Elden has recreated the image several times, always with clothes or swim trunks on, for anniversaries of the album's release, and has expressed mixed feelings about it in interviews that have grown increasingly negative through the years.
He told the New York Post in 2015 that it was "cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don't even remember".
He added, "It would be nice to have a quarter for every person that has seen my baby penis."
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse, but may when they have repeatedly come forward publicly, as Elden has.
© PAA 2021