Nirvana Beats Lawsuit Claiming ‘Nevermind’ Baby Cover Was Child Porn

A federal judge on Friday (Sept. 2) took sides Nirvana and dismissed a child pornography lawsuit filed by the man who appeared as a naked baby on the cover of the band’s 1991 album forget itand ruled that the case was filed years too late.

Spencer Elden, now in his 30s, claimed the album violated federal child pornography laws by showing a sexualized image of a minor. But Judge Fernando M. Olguin ruled that the case was filed well past the statute of limitations for such cases.

Federal child pornography laws have a 10-year statute of limitations that starts when a victim “reasonably discovers” either the crime or the harm caused by it. Under both deadlines, Judge Olguin said Elden had clearly filed his case late.

“Because it is undisputed that plaintiff did not file his complaint no later than ten years after he discovered a violation that could form the basis of his [child pornography] claim, the court concludes that his claim is untimely,” the judge wrote.

Originally published Sept. 24, 1991, forget it reached number one on the Billboard 200 in January 1992 and ultimately spent 554 weeks on the chart. The album has sold more than 30 million copies and is widely regarded as one of the most influential in the history of popular music.

The album’s cover – a naked infant swimming in a pool chasing after a dollar attached to a fish hook – had long been interpreted as an edgy critique of greed and capitalism. But in a lawsuit filed last summer, Elden claimed it was something else entirely: the kind of “lewd” display of a minor’s genitalia prohibited under federal child pornography statutes.

“Spencer’s true identity and legal name is forever linked to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor that has been distributed and sold worldwide from the time he was a baby to the present day,” he wrote at the time.

In addition to Nirvana’s corporate entity, the lawsuit also named Kurt Cobain’s estate, Universal Music Group, Dave Grohl and a number of other companies and individuals.

Nirvana strongly disputed that the image was child pornography, but first argued that the case should be dismissed for a simpler reason: the statute of limitations. They cited the fact that Elden had apparently endorsed his role in rock history on a number of occasions before 2011 – the cut-off year for the 10-year statute of limitations.

“Long before 2011, as requested by Elden, Elden knew about the photograph and knew that he (and not someone else) was the baby in the photograph,” the band wrote in its decision to dismiss the case. “He has been fully aware of the facts of both the alleged ‘infringement’ and ‘damage’ for decades.”

On Friday, Judge Olguin embraced that argument, saying it had been a good 10 years since Elden discovered either the infringement — the image itself — or the damage caused by it.

“Plaintiff does not dispute that he knew of damages arising from defendants’ activities in connection with their use of his image on forget it album cover more than ten years before he filed this suit,” the judge wrote.

Elden’s lawyers can appeal the verdict if they choose. They did not immediately return requests for comment Saturday.

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