Nirvana Sued Over Photo on Thirty-Year-Old Album


This Week’s Wacky Wednesday: Nirvana Sued Over Photo on Thirty-Year-Old Album

When you think of classic album covers, some of the ones that probably come to mind for many include Rumors from Fleetwood Mac, Tragic Kingdom from No Doubt, Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen, and Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. When you see those images, you immediately think about the band and the music on the album. The same is true of Nevermind by Nirvana.

It’s an image that has become iconic. The picture of the baby in the pool chasing the dollar on the hook is easily one of the most well-known covers. Even people who don’t even listen to Nirvana know the album cover.

Why Was Nirvana Sued?

However, not everyone is happy with the cover. The man who was photographed when he was a baby, Spencer Elden, is suing Nirvana for damages and alleges sexual exploitation. Elden was four months old when he was photographed. Naturally, he did not have a choice over whether he was photographed since he was a baby. He now says that his parents never signed a release form that authorized the use of his image on the album. Elden also says that the image is pornography.

Strangely, Robert Y. Lewis, who is representing Elden in the case, says that the inclusion of the dollar bill on the photos makes the minor appear to be a sex worker. The case also says that Nirvana had said that the genitals would be covered with a sticker, but that they did not follow through with that agreement.

Elden is concerned that his legal name and identity are inextricably tied to commercial sexual exploitation from when he was a minor through to today. He claims that he has suffered lifelong damages and will continue to suffer those damages because of the album cover. Other claims are that it has interfered with his normal development and educational progress and that he needs medical and psychological treatment because of it.

According to the lawsuit, he is asking for damages of at least $150,000 from the 15 named defendants in the case. This includes the surviving members of Nirvana, Courtney Love, Kirk Weddle, who took the picture, and the Cobain estate managers.

What Has Changed Now?

Several times in the past, Elden has recreated the album cover. He did this when he was a teen, as well as when he was an adult on the anniversaries of Nevermind’s 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. However, there was a difference. He was consciously making the decision, and he wore swim trunks for those photoshoots.

His attitude toward the photo has changed over the years. Sometimes, he has said that he’s upset about the entire thing, which is why he’s launched his lawsuit. Other times, he has said that it was positive and that it had opened doors for him as an adult in the art world.

This story is still just starting, and it’s unknown whether there might be a settlement or if the case might go to court. It’s a strange case given all of the circumstances and the length of time the image has been used.

It is understandable why Elden would want to profit from the use of his image. The album has sold more than 30 million copies around the world. However, there were other products that have used the image, as well, such as t-shirts. It’s a lot of money, and he may feel that he deserves some of that money given the way he says the image has damaged him as he has grown up.