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Nirvana wins dismissal of lawsuit over naked baby on 'Nevermind' album cover

Spencer Elden, 31, alleged that a photo taken when he was 4 months old constituted child pornography.
Nirvana (L-R) Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Astoria, London Photographer: Tony
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl of Nirvana in 1991. Tony Mottram / Photoshot / Courtesy Everett Collection

A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man who appeared on the cover of the Nirvana album "Nevermind" as a naked 4-month-old baby and claimed decades later that the photo constituted child pornography.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin of the Central District of California said Friday that Spencer Elden, 31, waited too long to claim Nirvana sexually exploited him when the Seattle grunge rock band used an image of him swimming naked toward a dollar bill on the cover of the hit record in 1991.

The lawsuit was filed against the estate of the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain; Cobain's former bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; Cobain's widow, Courtney Love; photographer Kirk Weddle; and other defendants, including several record labels.

Olguin dismissed an earlier version of the complaint in January, saying at the time that Elden's lawyers had missed a filing deadline.

In the eight-page ruling Friday, Olguin wrote that the "plaintiff’s action will be dismissed without leave to amend," suggesting that Elden cannot file another version of his complaint. In a statement, however, Elden's lawyers said he "intends to appeal this ruling."

The lawsuit centers on a photo Weddle took of 4-month-old Elden inside an Olympic-size pool at the Pasadena Aquatic Center in 1991. The photo was altered to depict him appearing to chase after a dollar bill pierced by a fishhook.

Elden's family was paid about $200, Elden's father told National Public Radio in 2008.

"Nevermind" — a rock classic anchored by the era-defining hit singles "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come as You Are" — propelled Nirvana to mainstream success. The album sold tens of millions of copies and is widely considered a landmark in American popular music.

Elden has re-created the swimming pool image several times as a teenager and an adult, donning a swimsuit for photo shoots commemorating the album's 17th, 20th and 25th anniversaries.

"The anniversary means something to me," Elden told the New York Post in 2016. "It's strange that I did this for five minutes when I was four months old and it became this really iconic image."

"It's cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don't even remember," he added.

But in recent years, Elden's opinion appeared to darken, culminating in a legal fight that started in August 2021. The judge was evidently unmoved by Elden's attorneys' claims.

Bert Deixler, a lawyer for the defendants, told Reuters: "We are pleased that this meritless case has been brought to a speedy final conclusion."

CORRECTION (Sept. 5, 2022, 6:30 p.m. ET): A photo caption on a previous version of this article misspelled the first name of a member of Nirvana. He is Krist Novoselic, not Kris.