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Nirvana’s legal battle over Nevermind’s naked baby artwork is dismissed

Spencer Elden, who appeared on the album cover as a four-month-old baby, accused the band of child pornography and sexual exploitation in August last year

In December last year, the remaining members of Nirvana finally responded to a lawsuit levelled against them by Spencer Elden — AKA the naked baby on the cover of their 1991 album Nevermind — who accused the grunge band of child pornography and sexual exploitation months earlier (August 24).

Now, a California judge has dismissed the case altogether, though that doesn’t mean that Nirvana’s legal battles are necessarily over just yet. As reported by Spin, Judge Fernando M. Olguin dismissed the case “with leave to amend” in US District Court in Central California on Monday (January 3).

Following Nirvana’s request for the dismissal of the case late last year, Elden’s legal team had until last Thursday (December 30) to file an opposition, but apparently missed the deadline. Now, Elden has been granted “one last opportunity” to file a second complaint, which is due by January 13.

If the new deadline is missed, Elden (who appeared on the cover as a four-month-old baby) will be denied an opportunity to refile. If it is met, Nirvana will have until January 27 to reply to the refiled lawsuit.

“Elden’s claim that the photograph on the Nevermind album cover is ‘child pornography’ is, on its face, not serious,” said the lawyer representing remaining members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, on December 23. The 2021 lawsuit, he added, was filed too late to fall within the “applicable statute of limitations”.

“The Nevermind cover photograph was taken in 1991,” he stated. “It was world-famous by no later than 1992. Long before 2011, as Elden has pled, Elden knew about the photograph, and knew that he (and not someone else) was the baby in the photograph. He has been fully aware of the facts of both the supposed ‘violation’ and ‘injury’ for decades.”

Filed in August 2021, the original lawsuit sought $150,000 in damages from each defendant, including Grohl, Novoselic, cover art photographer Kirk Weddle, and the estate of Kurt Cobain, which is partly overseen by Courtney Love. Since then, amendments have cited entries from Kurt Cobain’s personal journals and detailed a photoshoot in which Elden was “depicted as Hugh Hefner”.

In Nirvana’s motion to dismiss, the defendants’ lawyer also echoed doubts about Elden’s case shared by legal experts earlier in the year. Primarily, he focused on Elden’s previous embrace of being on the cover, saying: “Elden has spent three decades profiting from his celebrity as the self-anointed ‘Nirvana Baby.’” 

Over the years, Elden has reportedly reenacted the photo on several occasions, appeared on a talk show to parody the artwork, tattooed the album’s name on his chest, and used his connection to Nirvana in attempts to pick up women.

Sharing his thoughts on the case prior to its dismissal, Dave Grohl suggested that the legal trouble didn’t come as a surprise, saying: “At some point, unfortunately, it just becomes par for the course.” However, the drummer didn’t completely rule out reworking the cover in the future, adding: “I have many ideas of how we should alter that cover… But, we’ll see what happens.”