Velvet Underground Lose Andy Warhol Copyright Claim

Lawsuit said banana album art is a band trademark

September 11, 2012 10:25 AM ET
'The Velvet Underground and Nico'
'The Velvet Underground and Nico'

The Velvet Underground do not have a valid copyright claim on the Andy Warhol artwork on the cover of the band's 1967 debut, a federal judge ruled in dismissing part of the band's trademark infringement lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The dispute began in 2009 when the Warhol Foundation claimed the band's use of the image infringed on the foundation's copyright. The group rejected the copyright claim, countering that the banana print on the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico was, in fact, a band trademark. The Velvet Underground filed suit in January after learning that the Warhol Foundation had licensed the image for a line of iPhone cases. The band demanded the Warhol Foundation stop licensing the banana image, and pay the band for past licensing.

The Warhol Foundation responded with a promise never to sue the Velvet Underground for copyright infringement for use of the banana design, which meant there was no longer a copyright dispute, U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan ruled last week.

Nathan didn't rule on who owns the rights to the image. The band says the banana print is so closely identified with them that any use of it by the Warhol Foundation would confuse the public, while the foundation notes that the Velvet Underground broke up in 1972. The band has licensed the image over the years for uses including pillow cases and, in 2001, an Absolut Vodka advertising campaign.

Among various other stipulations in the judge's decision comes this one, which is sure to disappoint fans hoping for one more reunion: "The Velvet Underground broke up as a band in 1972; it last performed live in 1993 and will never perform live again."

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