Nevermind: Nirvana wins case over iconic cover image

Nirvana nevermind
(Image credit: Samir Hussein / Getty)

The infamous 'child pornography' case filed by the man who featured as a nude baby on Nirvana’s iconic 1991 Nevermind cover has been dismissed in a US court.  

On Friday 2 Sept, Judge Fernando M. Olguin ruled that the case brought by Spencer Elden, then 4 months old, now in his 30s, comfortably exceeded the statute of limitations for such cases.

A 10-year time limit applies in federal child pornography cases, starting from the point at which a victim “reasonably discovers” a crime or injury.

“Because it is undisputed that plaintiff did not file his complaint within ten years after he discovered a violation that could form the basis for his [child pornography] claim, the court concludes that his claim is untimely,” Judge Olguin ruled.

Elden’s central claim is that the image constitutes “commercial sexual exploitation”. “Spencer’s true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor which has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day,” Elden claimed.

Now, Elden’s attorneys have vowed to appeal the ruling, calling it an  “unprecedented interpretation” of federal child pornography law in a statement to Billboard (paywall). “Spencer’s victimization as a child remains frozen in time,” reads the statement. “His childhood self continues to be invaded and he will be repeatedly victimized as long as the Nevermind cover continues to be distributed.”

In defence, Nirvana’s corporate representatives, alongside Universal Music Group, Dave Grohl and others, disputed that central claim but moved for dismissal under that 10-year statute of limitations, pointing to Elden’s previous endorsements of the shot, including prior to 2011.

“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,” they wrote in their dismissal plea. “He has been fully aware of the facts of both the supposed ‘violation’ and ‘injury’ for decades.”

Judge Olguin concluded, “Plaintiff does not dispute that he knew of injuries arising from defendants’ activities related to their use of his image on the Nevermind album cover more than ten years before he filed this action.”

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.