Lawsuit Accusing Nirvana of Sexually Exploitive Imagery Is Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man who said he had been sexually exploited by the grunge rock group Nirvana when the band used a photo of him as a baby, naked and drifting in a pool, for the cover of its seminal album “Nevermind.”

In his complaint, the man, Spencer Elden, 30, accused Nirvana of engaging in child pornography when it used a photo of him as the cover art of “Nevermind,” the Seattle band’s breakthrough 1991 album that helped define Generation X and rocketed the group to international fame.

The lawsuit was dismissed after a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said that Mr. Elden’s lawyers missed a deadline to respond to a motion for dismissal by the lawyers for Nirvana.

Judge Fernando M. Olguin said that Mr. Elden’s lawyers had until Jan. 13 to file a second amended complaint to address “the alleged defects” in the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Robert Y. Lewis, one of Mr. Elden’s lawyers, said they would file the complaint well before the deadline. He said the missed deadline was a result of “confusion” over how much time they had to respond to the motion for dismissal.

“We feel confident that our amended complaint will survive an expected motion to dismiss,” Mr. Lewis said.

The lawsuit was filed in August against the estate of Kurt Cobain; the musician’s former bandmates, David Grohl and Krist Novoselic; and Mr. Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, among other parties. Their lawyers did not immediately respond to messages for comment on Tuesday.

In their motion to dismiss, the lawyers for Nirvana said that Mr. Elden’s lawsuit failed to meet the statute of limitations to file a complaint citing a violation of federal criminal child pornography statutes. But they also denied that the picture, “one of the most famous photographs of all time,” was an example of child pornography.

“Elden’s claim that the photograph on the ‘Nevermind’ album cover is ‘child pornography’ is, on its face, not serious,” they wrote. “A brief examination of the photograph, or Elden’s own conduct (not to mention the photograph’s presence in the homes of millions of Americans who, on Elden’s theory, are guilty of felony possession of child pornography), makes that clear.”

Instead, they said, “the photograph evokes themes of greed, innocence and the motif of the cherub in Western art.”

Mr. Elden was 4 months old when he was photographed in 1991 by a family friend, Kirk Weddle, at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, Calif.

The photo of Mr. Elden was picked from among dozens of pictures of babies Mr. Weddle photographed for the album cover, which Mr. Cobain, the band’s frontman, envisioned showing a baby underwater.

Mr. Weddle paid Mr. Elden’s parents $200 for the picture, which was later altered to show the baby chasing a dollar, dangling from a fishhook.

In the decades that followed, Mr. Elden appeared to celebrate his part in the classic cover, recreating the moment for the album’s 10th, 17th, 20th and 25th anniversaries, though not naked.

But in the lawsuit, Mr. Elden said he had suffered “permanent harm” because of his association with the album, including emotional distress and a “lifelong loss of income-earning capacity.”

The lawsuit did not provide details about the losses but said that Nirvana, the producers of the album and others had all profited from the album’s sales at the expense of Mr. Elden’s privacy.

The lawyers for Nirvana said that Mr. Elden used his fame from the photo to pick up women and benefited financially from the album cover. They described the various times he re-enacted the photograph for a fee, his public appearances parodying the cover, and the copies of the album that he autographed, which were then sold on eBay.

They wrote: “Elden has spent three decades profiting from his celebrity as the self-anointed ‘Nirvana Baby.’”