Maybe it’s MGM’s Banana?

Everybody Has a Sticker on This Banana! Graphic by Cat Weaver :)

Following up on the Velvet Underground v The Andy Warhol Foundation story, Hollywood Reporter speculates similarly to The Art Machine that the famed fruit’s copyright may belong to the record label.

Hollywood Reporters’s Eriq Gardner, wondering why the Velvet Underground hasn’t used a more fail-proof strategy of claiming the copyright for themselves (instead of opting to claim trademark protection on an image in the public domain) says,

“According to the facts in record, MGM Records paid both the band and Warhol $3,000 to furnish the image for use on the 1967 album cover. If the record label paid the money as a work-for-hire agreement, the true “author” of the image, under the law, would be the record label. We asked Universal Music Group, the seeming successor to MGM Records, to comment, but so far, we haven’t heard anything.”

It is an interesting speculation and one we may wonder about: is MGM silently planning its own little coup? And, if so, was it inspired by the Velvet’s bold but transparent strategies, or by press speculation about the Warhol graphic being a “work for hire?”

Or, maybe MGM has secret plans prompted by questions from sites like Hollywood Reporter asking them questions about the graphic? How meta would that be?

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Banana Fanna Faux

Google Velvet

It’s complicated.

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?

Transformative Use is Useless

‘Transformative use’ is just mucking things up.

That’s what I think.

Providing a pivot for the Cariou v Prince case and the only real point of interest no matter what the pundits say, transformative use, instead of the fog-clearing test that it was supposed to be, has become the main particulate in a legal fog of war that has lasted three years now.

Thus far, the dueling Cariou v Prince briefs have added new certainty to my theory that transformative use is a singularly unhelpful notion.

Read the rest on Hyperallergic

Will Round Two of Cariou v Prince Change Art Law Forever?


You're going to see a lot of this guy -from Patrick Cariou's Yes Rasta

Go ahead, expect more of these sweaty headlines with question marks in them. Because, with the now rather infamous Cariou v Prince case up for appeal sometime this year, we are facing another deluge of half-informed, and angrily contentious, punditry which will wash over the raw, dry, factual sands of more professional reports like a tsunami of histrionics.

Drowning in the madness will be all those bleeding hearts who root for the little guy, and the sundry art world know-it-alls who root for controversy, along with the fastidious fence straddlers like myself who can’t do right by anyone — and, let us not forget, the stalwart naifs who insist on seeing appropriation as flat out theft.

In the background, lawyers toil away, building sand castles of the driest, rawest, facts they can muster.

It is no wonder that the case has captured the attention of so many. It involves a lot of money, after all, and it pits an underdog, Patrick Cariou, against an art star, Richard Prince, and his giant posse of star-makers and lawyers. It also comes after artists had become cocky, with most copyright infringement cases settling without trial, and often to the mutual benefit of defendants and plaintiffs.

At base the issue is this: Richard Prince’s team must prove that district court judge Deborah A. Batts ruled in error when she decided against Prince’s fair use claim. Patrick Cariou’s lawyer, Dan Brooks, must argue that the ruling did, in fact, use the correct legal standard.

Brooks will file his opening brief by January 25th. Faced with the formidable 135 page appeal filed on Oct. 26, 2011 by big guns Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and a nearly 50 page amicus brief filed on behalf of Richard Prince by the Andy Warhol foundation, plus similar briefs from Google and a consortium of museums (including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago), Brooks will have to answer five newly refined points of contention.

  1. That contrary to the first circuit court’s decision, the Canal Zone works that use Cariou’s photos are indeed transformative in every sense established by art history and accepted artistic practice and constitute a fair use of those images.
  2. That Prince’s “intentions” do not factor into the meaning that his work may or may not have since it is the viewer and the context of a work that give it its meaning.
  3. That contrary to testimony, Cariou did not lose any marketing opportunities due to Prince’s use of his images; indeed, his lawyers argue, his book prices soared after the initial bout of litigation.
  4. That the first circuit decision, if upheld, will create a “chilling effect” on future creative work, and thereby will override the very purpose of the fair use exception which is intended to protect free speech and works of social value.
  5. That, in the Batts decision to protect the copyright holder, Patrick Cariou, the rights of the appropriation artist, Richard Prince were unduly impeded, as her ruling overreached in lumping all of the thirty paintings under one ruling.

In Part One of this Three Part series, I set up a virtual dialogue between Dan Brooks (Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.), Patrick Cariou’s lawyer and Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project and a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School.

In Part Two, I will discuss the five points above in greater detail. In Part 3, I will part the waters.

Read the rest and look forward to Parts TWO and THREE on Hyperallergic

On Derivative Art and Law

Robert J. Lang's creation takes a munch break at MoMA

In my latest on Hyperallergic,  I gave Robert J. Lang the mic and he gave us a lesson in the history, diversity, and multiple uses of origami! He also comments very briefly on his current lawsuit against artist Sarah Morris whom he accuses of copyright infringement.

I have been following copyright infringement cases for a while now and find it very interesting that people tend to predict case outcomes based on their personal opinions about copyrights, or the individual artists, or the genres of art involved. Rarely do I see discussions about derivative art, copyrights, and lawsuits that actually deal with the legal issues that are involved.

The Lang v Sarah Morris case is a very good example. People who have taken a strong position in favor of derivative art are predicting that Morris cannot lose. Others see this as clear case of infringement and are rooting for the origami artists. But few seem to understand the legal terms they are using to support their emotional arguments. And fewer still seem to understand that the courts don’t care what sort of art you like.

The fact is, it can be pretty hard to predict the outcomes of these cases without a good look at the depositions and the court records. And arguments about the court’s decisions look pretty silly when they misunderstand terms like “transformative” or mistake the word “derivative” for an insult. These legal terms are too often reacted to in a naive and emotional way even by some who set themselves up as experts on the subject.

I will follow up here in a week or so, with an essay about the legal issues involved in these cases, and how they are misunderstood by the public.

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