Business News Legal

Velvet Underground sue over Warhol’s banana

By | Published on Friday 13 January 2012

Velvet Underground

Representatives for The Velvet Underground are suing the Andy Warhol Foundation over a banana. Well, not any old banana, but the one that appeared on the cover to the band’s 1967 debut album.

The Andy Warhol Foundation was established after the pop artist’s death in 1987 and basically administers his estate. The Velvet Underground says that the Foundation has been licensing use of the iconic banana image – which was created by Warhol, the band’s then manager – without their permission. Because the image is so associated with the band, they argue, whenever the Foundation allows a commercial entity to use it – for example on a line of iPad covers – it implies they are endorsing the products bearing the picture.

If it gets to court, this legal dispute will presumably in part centre on just who owns the copyright in the image. Copyrights are registered in the US, but it seems that neither Warhol nor the band ever registered their interests in the banana picture. Therefore who should have control over the image, and the rights to earn off it, will likely depend on conversations or informal agreements dating back to the 60s.

That said, the Velvet Underground’s litigation in the main focuses on the public’s perception of the image, suggesting that the Foundation is inappropriately and possibly deliberately capitalising on the fact people associate the banana more with the band than with Warhol, and that by licensing it to third parties they are therefore “deceiving the public”.

The Foundation is yet to respond to the action.