In 1966, when, then producer and manager, Andy Warhol created and signed the now famous banana graphic for the Velvet Underground’s debut album, copyright laws were different. An unregistered copyright could result in a loss of copy rights. Apparently by the time the album, The Velvet Underground & Nico appeared in 1977, Andy Warhol who never did register the logo, did not hold intellectual property rights to it.
What is more, he was paid for the design by the record label, which can mean that the banana was actually a work for hire. In that case, the copyright would have belonged to the Velvet Undergound’s label. But they never registered it either.
Although they disbanded in 1972, Lou Reed and John Cale say they have continuously used Warhol’s banana in marketing and promotion for various VU brand items and to promote their 1989 re-union tour and record, Songs for Drella, (their tribute to Warhol). This means that they may hold a common law trademark.
Indeed, Reed/Cale claim the image is indelibly attached to the band’s brand and is instantly recognized by the public to be an imprimatur of the Velvet Underground.
According to the band:
“The symbol has become so identified with The Velvet Underground … that members of the public, particularly those who listen to rock music, immediately recognize the banana design as the symbol of The Velvet Underground”
Their current trademark and unfair competition lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts (AWF), filed on Jan 11, 2012, accuses them of illegally leveraging copy rights to the image by licensing it to third parties (Apple, for one) “in a manner likely to cause confusion or mistake as to the association of Velvet Underground with the goods sold in commerce by such third parties.”
The AWF never registered the banana either. And since they have published the image many times without any official right to it, Reed/Cale claim that the AWF have “no copyright interest” in the banana, and that it is, in fact, in the public domain.
Suggesting that, with so many graphics to choose from, The Andy Warhol Foundation can only be using the banana to capitalize on its association with The Velvet Underground, the band is seeking an injunction against the AWF, to force them to cease licensing it to third parties. Reed/Cale are also demanding “unspecified damages” and a share of the profits made by the AWF from any past or ongoing licensing deals.
The suit also demands a declaration that the Warhol Foundation has no copyright interest in the banana.
Banana Fanna Faux answers questions first asked by TAM in When Is a Banana Not a Banana?