Nirvana Sued by Man Who Was Baby on Legendary Album Cover

baby from "nevermind" cover, now 30, seeks damages for "child pornography"

By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Judge's gavel
Creative works can be registered for copyright protection with the United States Copyright Office. Photo By corgarashu / Shutterstock

In 1991, the famed grunge band Nirvana released their sophomore full-length album Nevermind, which became one of the best-selling albums of all time, moving 30 million copies. The cover of the album depicts a four-month-old baby, Spencer Elden, naked in a swimming pool, swimming for a dollar on a hook. Now, Elden, 30, is suing the remaining band members—guitarist and singer Kurt Cobain died in 1994—over the cover, calling it “child pornography” and demanding compensation and that future reissues of Nevermind be altered.

Spencer Elden, now 30, claims that the album cover, which depicted him naked at four months old, is "child pornography." Copyright law may decide the verdict.

However, Kirk Weddle, the photographer of the well-known album cover, was friends with Elden’s parents, who agreed to have their son in the picture and were paid $200 for it. If the suit isn’t thrown out, copyright law may affect the outcome of the case.

In his video series The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, Dr. Michael G. Goldsby, Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University, explained the finer points of copyright law.

In any creative field, an intellectual property is something that comes out of your head. Whether it’s a business name, a painting, a new invention, or a photograph that becomes an instantly recognizable album cover. All these can be protected legally to prevent others from stealing your work. Patents often cover inventions, while trademarks are usually for names or logos of things.

A third kind of intellectual property protection is a copyright.

“A provision in Title 17 of the U.S. Code provides protection for creative products,” Dr. Goldsby said. “When you hear the word copyright, you tend to think of books and movies, and those do fit under copyright laws. But more specifically, the government states that it grants automatic protection to printed works, software, artwork, photos, video, and practically everything on the internet once it is ‘fixed in any tangible medium of expression.'”

Copyright law is huge in the United States, especially with so many people creating things every day. A federal office was established long ago to protect intellectual property rights. Creative works can be registered with the United States Copyright Office at copyright.gov.

“The duration of protection for a copyrighted item is 70 years,” Dr. Goldsby said. “After that, the copyrighted work goes into the public domain and it’s free for everyone to get access to.”

Intellectual property can be a complicated matter, but every business in the United States and every up-and-coming entrepreneur should gain knowledge of how it works. Getting familiar with patents, trademarks, and copyrights can help them be prepared for the types of challenges that come with intellectual property. Dr. Goldsby recommended that business owners find an intellectual property attorney and seek advice from them.

If Spencer Elden takes his lawsuit to court, he’ll be up against not only Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, herself a famous musician and actress; but also Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer who went on to form the Grammy-winning band Foo Fighters; and Geffen Records, who released Nevermind.

He may have his work cut out for him.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

About Jonny Lupsha, News Writer 896 Articles
Jonny is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Sterling, Virginia. He has written for The Great Courses since 2017 and enjoys studying the courses as much as writing about them. Contact Jonny at lupshaj@teachco.com