Nirvana, Kurt Cobain’s estate, and apparently anyone else involved are all being sued over the album cover of their second studio album, Nevermind. For what? Child pornography. Now if you are anything like me, your response to reading that would look something like this.
You: Wait, What?
*remembers album cover*
You again: Oh.
Still You: OHHHHHH.
The complaint goes in to further detail:
“To ensure the album cover would trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer, (photographer Kirk) Weddle activated Spencer’s ‘gag reflex’ before throwing him underwater in poses highlighting and emphasizing Spencer’s exposed genitals,” the suit alleges.
Counsel continues, claiming that…
[T]he defendants, “used child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilized in the music industry to get attention, wherein album covers posed children in a sexually provocative manner to gain notoriety, drive sales, and garner media attention, and critical reviews.”
You know, I’ve never thought about it that way before. Now, having read the argument, it’s hard to not see it any other way. As time goes on, there are those moments when adult realizations warp my childhood memories. Like watching that episode of SpongeBob that spoofs Kill Bill. Where Sandy fights a villian. Named The Tickler. Who is French…so he’s a French Tickler. And it’s really hard to fight how widely the picture has been shared — not only is the image iconic to non-grunge aficionados, but the album has sold over 30 million copies. Frankly, this may be one of the most shared pictures of a naked child… ever? The sheer virality of the image’s spread may make sense of the $2.5 million in damages being sought.
With that said, part of the law school process is learning to think like a lawyer. After my initial shock, my second thought was about the statute of limitations. Clearly Spencer Elden (the baby in the photo) wouldn’t have been one at the time of the picture’s being taken and circulated. Luckily, the timeline would have been extended to when he reached the age of maturity, given a few buffer years to allow some wiggle room. Thing is, Mr. Elden is 30 now. I have no clue how this will turn out legally, but in my own goings about, I’ll be averting my gaze whenever I see the album cover in non-existent record stores.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. Before that, he wrote columns for an online magazine named The Muse Collaborative under the pen name Knehmo. He endured the great state of Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.