Naked ‘Nevermind’ baby loses lawsuit against Nirvana after judge dismisses child pornography complaint

Is it art or is it a crime? On August 24, 2021, Spencer Elden lawyer up to file his first complaint against the alternative rock band we all know, Nirvana, for their album cover “Nevermind” that was published originally in 1991. Elden is the naked baby who is swimming towards a one dollar bill on the cover of the album. Elden is now 32, and he is finally expressing the amount of suffering he endured from the album cover. Unfortunately for him Elden’s hardship and life struggles could not be compensated by the complaint being dismissed. Although the lawsuit was dismissed, Elden and his attorney didn’t stop there, they soon filed a second amended complaint. Elden’s attorney stated that the image was pornographic and because of that picture he had encountered many hardships such as a “lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life…” Sadly, Elden’s second complaint was also dismissed due to him filing it after the ten year statute of limitations had expired.

While the album cover has stirred up quite the controversy over the last few years, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, never anticipated this outcome. Cobain initially wanted the album cover to be a child being born underwater. The “Nevermind” album cover’s intended symbolism was supposed to be about what is wrong with society and that even an infant can’t resist chasing money. For those who think that the album cover is a crime believe that the naked baby grabbing the dollar bill resembles the baby as a sex worker, that it is exploitative, and that it’s completely inappropriate. For the ones who think the album cover is art believe that it is not child pornography, that people are too sensitive nowadays, and that if you find it to be sexual then there is something wrong. By Kurt Cobain explaining the thought process and the meaning of the naked baby on the cover it is safe to say that he had no intentions of promoting child pornography at all when releasing the album cover.

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16 thoughts on “Naked ‘Nevermind’ baby loses lawsuit against Nirvana after judge dismisses child pornography complaint

  1. I never knew the horrible impact that this album cover had on Spencer Elden. Although I always loved this album and never thought too much about the baby on the cover, because of the depiction of nude babies in art for centuries, this news disturbs me. I think that if Cobain really wanted to illustrate a child being born out of water, he could’ve done an illustration or an alternate depiction that did not involve a child being so exposed. I have always seen it as art, but a child is unable to fend for themselves–especially a baby. This is unjust, and to think that Nirvana ruined the whole life for a man because Kobain had an artistic vision makes me upset.

  2. This judgment highlights the importance of considering context and intent when evaluating controversial artwork. Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album cover is widely regarded as a seminal piece of art, emblematic of the band’s impact on music history. It represents a broader cultural commentary rather than an explicit endorsement of child pornography.
    Nevertheless, the case serves as a reminder of the complex and delicate balance between freedom of expression and protecting individuals’ rights. While the court ruled in favor of artistic expression in this instance, it is crucial to continually assess and discuss the ethical implications surrounding art, especially when it involves sensitive subject matter.

  3. I remember hearing about this when the lawsuit was first filed. Although Spencer Elden points to the fact that the album cover brought on a lot of hardships, this isn’t the first time he’s spoken about the album cover. Before this, he mentioned how much he loved being on the cover and even recreated the photo as an adult on John Chapple’s instagram, with swim trunks on this time of course.For decades, he had given himself the name “Nirvana Baby” and tried profiting off it in any way possible. I believe that this was just another attempt to cash in on the album cover that makes him well known, even if not by name. In the end, the trial was dismissed because they cited a court ruling from 1994 that depicted a family with a naked baby in a tub, which found that no one would actually believe it was violating child pornography laws.

  4. The legal definition of child pornography is “a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor” in the United States. Considering that this baby photo is not intended to be pornography, I would say that this is not child pornography. The parents knew what they were doing when they signed the papers allowing their son to be a naked baby swimming in that photo, so if the guy would like to talk to someone about compensation, he should ask his parents.
    I think the time period in which he is sueing probably mankes the situation for more of a personal gain than an actual reason of him thinking that it was wrong to use his naked baby picture because it was 10 years after he turned 18.

  5. This dude is wild, since he definitely was previously bragging about being the cover, and I feel like I remember him trying several different times to sue.

    Anyways, I don’t think that this depicts Child Pornography, but I can see how it may seem that way, since it’s a widespread image of a nude child. I think the fact that it is so popular is the issue, as it’s comparable to pictures some parents take of their kids in the bathtub. Additionally, the point of this image was not to promote the abuse or exploit a child sexually. It’s not done to arouse anyone and I don’t think that anyone has used this image in a sexual sex (I really hope not).

    Pretty sure this is so he can cash out a little more.

  6. This dude is wild, since he definitely was previously bragging about being the cover, and I feel like I remember him trying several different times to sue.

    Anyways, I don’t think that this depicts Child Pornography, but I can see how it may seem that way, since it’s a widespread image of a nude child. I think the fact that it is so popular is the issue, as it’s comparable to pictures some parents take of their kids in the bathtub. Additionally, the point of this image was not to promote the abuse or exploit a child sexually. It’s not done to arouse anyone and I don’t think that anyone has used this image in a sexual sex (I really hope not).

  7. The first question that comes to mind: weren’t the parents of this baby compensated for this picture?If this guy wants to sue anyone, maybe he should start with his parents or legal guardians. His identity, I believe, was not made public. So how much can he realistically have suffered? To me it sounds like that since his first try to profit was dismissed, he came up with another „affliction“. I mean, come on! This guy needs to grow up and take responsibility for his life.

  8. Let me reassess the definition of pornography. Pornography is explicit and intends to stimulate eroticism. I can definitely understand how this can be viewed as child pornography, not because it is but because pedophiles aren’t particularly picky about where they find it. For some a little girl fully clothed with pigtails is erotic enough. Therefore, I can see how some creep can use this in alternative ways. However, this seems more like art rather than something meant to seduce. Personally, I don’t view this baby as pornographic because there’s no appeal. Now concerning the lawsuit, it is very hard to distinguish babies or what someone looked like as a baby so it seems strange to me how someone can be so affected when all you have to do is avoid showing your baby pictures and no one would even know it was you in the cover.

  9. This is an interesting example of how controversial subjects like nudity can get convoluted in terms of the law. Most parents will have photos of their children in the bathtub or something similar, but are those photos considered child pornography? Could the image on the “Nevermind” album cover only be construed as child pornography because it was mass produced? Although Kurt Cobain’s reasoning for using the photo on the album cover may be sound in terms of artistic liberty, it doesn’t negate how Elden personally felt about its use. As soon as Elden spoke out saying he was uncomfortable with it, they should have stopped producing the album with that image on it. Neglecting the subjects feelings for the purposes of “art” turns it into an exploitative act, which further complicates the legal aspect.

  10. The cover art depicts a baby that no one would have known who it was in an adult form unless people were exposing the identity of the baby. If Spencer Elden had just then at age 32 decided he wanted to sue the band Nirvana, it does not seem to come solely from the reason that he felt negative effects due to it. However, this doesn’t dismiss or downplay the fact that if Elden claims he has experienced hardships due to this album cover regardless of whether he unknowingly brought the attention to himself.

  11. I think this was quite interesting when I first read about it because it basically asks us whether or not art in any form can be performed on a child since consent is not quite understood. Before this lawsuit, and people can correct me if I’m wrong, the Nirvana baby Spencer Elden did receive loyalties from the album and often promoted on his social media who he was because of the album. Many people thought this was just a shakedown for money, including the band. When the first lawsuit didn’t get him any settlement money, they filed again, this time with more serious accusations, not ones that Spencer Elden necessarily agreed with at the time. Either way, I think its interesting because from an art perspective, children’s bodies shouldn’t be viewed in a sexual way and it was a progressive artistic decision to make this an album cover. From a criminal perspective, I can understand the calling it of child pornography cause there are individuals out there who may have used this image for criminal purposes.

  12. Whether the naked baby depicted on Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album cover should be considered art or crime is determined by viewing the cover objectively and subjectively. If we considered this case objectively, considering only the picture, its mass distribution, the profit that was collected from the picture, and the discomfort of the individual in the picture, then it would seem that the cover is in fact child pornography. On the other hand, considering the case subjectively, with Kurt Cobain’s intent and the message behind the picture, it would seem that the cover is art. While I would have previously considered the cover to be art, given that Spencer Elden has made numerous attempts to exhibit his discomfort and disapproval of his picture being used, I would say that the current use of the picture is a crime. I guess the question pertains to the role of consent in art.

  13. Whether the naked baby depicted on Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album cover should be considered art or crime is determined by viewing the cover objectively and subjectively. If we considered this case objectively, considering only the picture, its mass distribution, the profit that was collected from the picture, and the discomfort of the individual in the picture, then it would seem that the cover is in fact child pornography. On the other hand, considering the case subjectively, with Kurt Cobain’s intent and the message behind the picture, it would seem that the cover is art. While I would have previously considered the cover to be art, given that Spencer Elden has made numerous attempts to exhibit his discomfort and disapproval of his picture being used, I would say that the current use of the picture is a crime. I guess the question boils down to the role of consent in art.

  14. This article discusses the controversial Nirvana album cover for “Nevermind” of a naked baby who has grown up and wants his fair share. Spencer Elden is the baby depicted on the cover and he claims he needs compensation for the use of the image arguing for its pornographic nature. This case was dismissed because of the statute of limitations, and Kurt Cobain also passed away many years ago. Cobain claims it was commentary on social issues rather than promoting child pornography.

  15. Hey Taylor,

    As an avid Nirvana appreciator, I definitely air on the side that considers this cover a piece of art. And I think that the claims Elden’s attorney made were fricken hilarious, I don’t see how being a baby on the album cover could cause him any mental or physical harm unless he was actively telling people that it was him on the cover. Seems to me something easily kept quiet. Since he was a baby anyways it would be his parent’s decision to allow it or not, something very common with child actors and models. I also don’t think this is child pornography, and yes I do agree people are too sensitive. That being said, this was a very interesting article that gave me a new perspective on one of my favorite album covers.

  16. Hi Taylor,

    I think Spencer Elden’s lawsuit against Nirvana is a perfect example of when art and law clash. I think the juxtaposition of art and crime can create really beuatiful pieces that stimulate someone to question a previously held thought about society; art and crime combined can sometimes be really powerful and even enjoyable (for example graffiti, Girl Talk’s music, etc.) However, art can also glorify crime and make it acceptable in the eyes of “well that’s art so it’s okay.” So the question is: when is it not okay? Where do we draw the line? Should we even draw a line?

    In my opinion, a line has to be drawn about where the overlap of art and crime starts, but more importantly, where it ends. When it is just crime and no longer acceptable as art? In this particular case, there are a lot of other minute details that take away from what the image is: a naked baby with its genitals exposed on the cover of a Nirvana album. The other details include the fact that the parents were paid for the image, the parents were friends with the photographer, a naked baby was less graphic than the intended image of a woman giving birth, Elden (the individual pictured on the album) profitted of of the image, and he missed the statute of limitations (10 years after he turned 18).

    According to the Department of Justice, child pornography is “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor.” images themselve are consindered “child sexual abuse images.” The photo does fall under the guidelines of these definitions.

    However, Elden didn’t make the statute of limitations guidelines, which would have expired once he was 28. This poses its own ethical issue. As stated in an NPR article entitled “A lawsuit over Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ naked baby album cover is dismissed (again)”, lawyer Margaret Mabie states “Under this logic, any child pornography producer…could simply wait out the clock and then re-distribute abusive material with impunity.”

    In the very least, the rerelease of the album should not have included the original image if it was made clear from Elden that he does not consent to that image being reproduced.

    Furthermore, there exists a question of why are child genitals okay but a woman giving birth is too graphic? Supporters of the album cover state there’s something wrong with you if you find the image sexual, and I would hasten to agree, but pedophiles still exist and now have access to this image. On the other hand, there’s nothing inherently sexual about a woman giving birth either. In my opinion, if the woman consents to that image it’s less criminal than the image of the naked child simply because the child cannot consent and make decision for themselves.

    So maybe Nirvana should have stuck with their original cover idea.

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