Velvet Underground Lose Banana Copyright Case To Warhol Foundation

1960’s ‘Rock Band’ The Velvet Underground have lost their legal battle against the Andy Warhol Foundation over the use of their instantly recognisable Banana  album cover design. A judge dismissed part of the lawsuit by the band, over the rights to the design that featured on their debut album. The remaining members of the band were told that they did not have a valid copyright claim, although it would be left up to them to decide whether they wanted to continue pursuing the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for trademark infringement.

The band accuse the Foundation of trademark infringement back in January, claiming that it has illegally allowed their iconic banana logo to be used on products such as iPod covers, and articles of clothing. They also demanded that the foundation pay them for past licensing breeches. The band stated that the banana image which appears on the front cover of their debut 1967 album is synonymous with the band’s image, despite never being officially copyrighted.

US district court judge Alison Nathan ruled  that there was no longer a copyright dispute. “Without a specific dispute over imminent activity, a declaratory judgment here would simply be ‘an opinion advising what the law would be under a hypothetical state of facts,'” Nathan wrote  “The [US] Constitution gives this court no power to issue such an opinion.” Nathan has ruled that  it’s irrelevant. The Velvet Underground can only proceed with the trademark aspects of this case, arguing that the Foundation’s use of the banana causes “confusion as to … affiliation, approval or sponsorship” by the group.

The Velvet Underground was formed by Lou Reed and the Welsh born guitarist, John Cale. Andy Warhol acted as their manager and producer for the first few years of their existence. Warhol was responsible for the design of the debut album cover, and deployed a pop art-style image of a banana accompanied by the phrase ‘peel slowly and see’. On early editions of the album, the banana was actually peelable, with the skin being a sticker that could be removed.

The case claimed that the banana ‘became a symbol, truly an icon, of the Velvet Underground’, and that ‘The symbol has become so identified with the Velvet Underground that members of the public, particularly those who listen to rock music, immediately recognise the banana design as the symbol of the Velvet Underground’.

But now the image has proliferated across iPad covers and other accessories. Amd the band believed the Warhol foundation was responsible, guilty of ‘deceiving the public’ into the impression that they had given their ‘sponsorship or approval’.

The critically-acclaimed album, which featured the co-vocals of German femme fatale Nico, brought iconic tracks such I’m Waiting for the Man, Run, Run, Run, Venus in Furs, and Heroin, to air. In 2006, it was added to the US National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

Despite poor record sales during the 1960s, The Velvet Underground are now considered by many to be one of the most important bands of all time, inspiring key artists David Bowie and REM.


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