Spencer Elden, the man who appeared on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album as a baby, is suing 17 defendants, including members of the band and the Kurt Cobain Estate, alleging that the photograph constitutes child pornography and that its use on the film's now-iconic cover has caused him irreparable harm. The suit names members of the band, the photographer, and several other parties, some of whom seem a little strange, like defunct record labels and Nirvana's original drummer, who was no longer part of the band by the time the album was released (and presumably by the time its album art was selected).
The album cover features a baby in a swimming pool, seemingly chasing a $1 bill dangling from a fishing line. Generally, non-sexualized photos of naked babies are not considered pornographic. In this case, Elden's lawyer alleges that dangling the $1 bill could imply that the baby is a sex worker.
"Defendants intentionally commercially marketed Spencer's child pornography and leveraged the shocking nature of his image to promote themselves and their music at his expense," claims the lawsuit (via Variety). "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."
To support that claim, the lawyer cites Scorpion's The Virgin Killer, Blind Faith's Blind Faith, and Van Halen's Balance. Of the three, two (The Virgin Killer and Blind Faith) have unobscured nudity, while Balance has two children whose genitals are obscured by a piece of playground equipment.
The lawsuit alleges that Elden's parents were paid $200 for the photo shoot, but never signed a release allowing the photo to be used for commercial purposes. He further claims that he has attempted to reach out to members of Nirvana in the past to express his concerns, but has never been contacted back.
Elden's relationship to the cover is a complicated one; per the Variety story, he has previously expressed reservations about the photo, implying it seemed exploitative to depict use a baby for the imagery. At the same time, he has regularly recreated the photo (always with swimming trunks on) for album anniversaries and other events. He also has a large "Nevermind" tattoo across his chest. It appears that this is the first time that he has characterized the photo as pornographic in nature, and the first public allegation that his parents did not sign a commercial release.