Nirvana wins a lawsuit over their 1991 Nevermind album cover, brought by the man who was featured on it as an infant.
The cover of Nevermind by Nirvana, featuring a nude infant with nothing censored underwater in a pool being tempted by a dollar on a fishhook, was designed by Robert Fisher, at the time an unknown artist for Geffen Records. Photographed by Kirk Weddle, the baby in question is Spencer Elden, then just four months old.
Elden, who was brought to the photoshoot by both his parents, has tried for several years to sue Nirvana, Geffen, and everyone involved for his involvement in the image.
Last year, Elden sued the band themselves for sexual exploitation, alleging that the photograph was child sexual abuse and that the image’s widespread popularity had caused him “extreme and permanent emotional distress” as well as lost wages and “enjoyment of life.”
A judge dismissed that case in January 2022, noting that Elden has reenacted the photo as an adult for money repeatedly, had the album title tattooed on his chest, autographed copies of the album for sale, and appeared on a talk show wearing a nude-colored onesie with a dollar bill on it. These facts don’t weigh with regards to whether or not the image was sexually exploitative, but are evidence against it having been distressing and damaging to Elden, now 30 years old.
He filed again, seeking $150,000 in damages and this time naming designer, photograph, studio, and band. Again, a judge has dismissed his claim, this time on the grounds that it is too late by the statute of limitations regarding child abuse. That statute gave him ten years after his 18th birthday, which means he would have had to file before he turned 28, which he did not.
Elden’s lawyers have argued that the statute of limitations should not begin to run out until sales of Nevermind, and the accompanying image, have stopped, and that each sale ought to reset the 10-year clock.
Nevermind has sold 30 million copies.
Photo: Stefano Chiacchiarini ’74 / Shutterstock