Spencer Elden filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles court against the band on Tuesday (24 August) alleging the image of himself, when he was a four-month-old minor, on the album cover constituted child pornography.
The 1991 cover image shows Elden in a swimming pool reaching for a dollar bill, with his genitalia exposed.
The lawsuit alleged Cobain agreed to redact Spencer’s image “with a sticker strategically placed over Spencer’s genitals”. It claimed Cobain agreed to have the sticker include the text “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet paedophile” on it.
Elden alleged his “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”.
The 15 defendants “knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so” said Spencer’s suit.
“Despite this knowledge, defendants failed to take reasonable steps to protect Spencer and prevent his widespread sexual exploitation and image trafficking.”
He alleged photographer Kirk Weddle activated Spencer’s “gag reflex” before throwing him underwater.
“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 emphasising Spencer’s exposed genitals,” said the suit.
It also mentions that “Cobain chose the image depicting Spencer – like a sex worker – grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed,” said the lawsuit.
The band used “child pornography depicting Spencer as an essential element of a record promotion scheme commonly utilised 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”, said the lawsuit.
As a result, Elden “has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages”, it said.
The plaintiff is seeking either $150,000 (£109,329) from each of the 15 defendants or unspecified damages to be determined at trial.
Geffen Records, which released the album 30 years ago, sold over 30 million copies of Nevermind across the world.
The Independent has contacted Cobain’s estate and Elden for comment.