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US appeals court resurrects legal battle over Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album cover

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The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has breathed new life into a lawsuit accusing the iconic rock band Nirvana of disseminating child pornography. The lawsuit centers around the use of a photograph featuring a naked four-month-old infant on the cover of Nirvana’s groundbreaking 1991 album, “Nevermind.”

The appellate court overturned a prior decision that claimed the plaintiff, Spencer Elden—depicted as the baby on the album cover—had waited too long to initiate his legal action against the influential Seattle grunge band. Elden filed the lawsuit two years ago, contending that he suffered “permanent harm” as Nirvana and others profited from the image of him submerged in a swimming pool, seemingly reaching for a dollar bill on a fish hook.

While the lawsuit alleges a violation of federal laws pertaining to child sexual abuse material, no criminal charges were pursued. A California federal judge initially dismissed the case but permitted Elden, now 32, to file a revised version. Subsequently, the judge dismissed the revised suit on the grounds that it exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations, as per one of the laws cited in the cause of action.

However, the appellate panel ruled on Thursday that each republication of the image “may constitute a new personal injury,” pointing to the image’s inclusion in a 30th-anniversary reissue of “Nevermind” in 2021. The court clarified that the question of whether the album cover qualifies as child pornography is not under consideration in this appeal.

Spencer Elden’s attorney, Robert Lewis, expressed satisfaction with the decision, stating that Elden eagerly anticipates his day in court. Nirvana’s lawyer, Bert Deixler, remained steadfast in their position, asserting, “This procedural setback does not change our view. We will defend this meritless case with vigor and expect to prevail.”

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