The man who, as a baby, was featured on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album is suing the former band members, the estate of Kurt Cobain and several others over the famous naked photograph. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Spencer Elden, now 30, alleges the band violated federal child pornography laws and claims that his parents never signed a release allowing Nirvana to use the photo, CBS Los Angeles reports.
In a complaint filed in the Los Angeles federal court, Elden alleges his "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."
According to the suit, the defendants "knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so. … Despite this knowledge, defendants failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking."
The album cover photo depicts Elden, who was 4 months old at the time the picture was taken, naked and swimming in a pool as a dollar bill dangles in front of him on a fishing hook. The lawsuit says the photo, allegedly chosen by Nirvana's late frontman, Kurt Cobain, suggests a "sex worker grabbing for a dollar bill."
The lawsuit alleges that Elden's parents never authorized the band to use the photo, which was taken at a Pasadena aquatic center in 1990, and that Elden received no compensation for it.
"To ensure the album cover would trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer, (photographer Kirk) Weddle activated Spencer's 'gag reflex' before throwing him underwater in poses highlighting and emphasizing Spencer's exposed genitals," the suit alleges.
Elden's suit also alleges the defendants, "used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention, wherein album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews."
As a result, the complaint claims, Elden "has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages."
The suit seeks either $150,000 from each of the 17 defendants – which include former members of Nirvana, various record companies, art directors and others – or unspecified damages to be determined at trial, CBS Los Angeles reports.
Elden has recreated the iconic photo several times, once in 2008, when he was 17, and then again in 2016 to mark the album's 25th anniversary. Elden wore shorts for both of those shoots. He told the New York Post that he was paid $200 for the 2016 photo, the same amount of money his father in 2008 told NPR he was offered for the original photoshoot that led to the album cover.
Nevermind has sold over 30 million copies since its release in 1991.
This story was originally published by CBS News on Aug. 25, 2021 at 7:10 a.m. ET.