Spencer Elden – who appeared as the baby on the cover of Nirvana's 1991 smash record Nevermind – is suing the band, alleging child sexual exploitation over the use of the image.
The cover depicts an uncensored shot of a nude four-month-old Elden swimming in a pool, reaching for a dollar bill that's attached to a fishing line.
Elden – who alleges that the image constitutes child pornography – is seeking damages of at least $150,000 from each of the 15 defendants, including surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the managers of Kurt Cobain's estate, Cobain's former wife Courtney Love and photographer Kirk Weddle.
In new legal papers filed in California, Elden says his “true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experience as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day”.
He also says he has “suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages” due to the distribution of the artwork, including “extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations”, interference with his “normal development and educational progress” and “enjoyment of life”.
The papers also say: “The images exposed Spencer's intimate body part and lasciviously displayed Spencer's genitals from the time he was an infant to the present day”.
And while non-sexualized photos of children are generally not considered child pornography under US law, Elden's lawyer, Robert Y. Lewis, argues that the inclusion of the dollar bill makes the baby seem “like a sex worker”.
The lawsuit makes several other claims regarding the image, including one that Nirvana had promised to cover up Elden's genitals with a sticker, but that the agreement was not upheld. It also claims that Elden received no compensation for appearing on the cover, and that his parents never signed a release form for the image.
Spencer Elden has recreated the cover several times as a teenager and an adult, commemorating the album's 10th, 20th and 25th anniversaries.
He has expressed mixed feelings about his involvement in the photoshoot in recent years.
In a 2015 interview with The Guardian (opens in new tab), Elden said that it has “always been a positive thing and opened doors for me”.
“I'm 23 now and an artist,” he said, “and this story gave me an opportunity to work with Shepard Fairey for five years, which was an awesome experience. He is a huge music connoisseur: when he heard I was the Nirvana baby, he thought that was really cool.”
However, in 2016, he told Time Magazine (opens in new tab) that he became “upset” about his fame as he got older.
“It's hard not to get upset when you hear how much money was involved,” he explained. “[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.”
Representatives for Nirvana and their associated record labels are yet to respond to the claims.