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Truce Called in Banana Fight Between Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Estate

The Velvet Underground and Nico
Verve Records

A federal judge has dismissed the recent legal tug of war between the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s estate.

The court battle started when the Warhol Foundation announced plans to license the artist’s well-known banana print — memorably featured on the cover of the 1967 album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ — to the Incase Designs company for use in a line of iPhone and iPad cases. Arguing that the band’s inextricable link with the image would cause confusion and lead people to believe they’d licensed it themselves, the members of the Velvet Underground’s business partnership (including former band members Lou Reed and John Cale) sued to put a stop to the deal.

The case posed some thorny legal questions, particularly because — as Vintage Vinyl News points out — neither Warhol nor the band claimed a copyright on the image. The VU partnership, however, argued that this strengthened its case; as VVN puts it, “There was no existing copyright on the image nor was a copyright claimed by the Velvet Underground on the album cover. This left a work that Reed, Cale, et. al. claimed was in the public domain and could not be licensed by the Foundation.”

According to case notes compiled by Wikipedia, the court had a jurisdiction problem with the suit because “the Constitution allows federal courts to decide only ‘Cases’ or ‘Controversies,’ which means ongoing or imminent disputes over legal rights, involving concrete facts and specific acts, that require court intervention in order to shield the plaintiff from harm or interference with its rights.” And because a judge determined that the band’s interests wouldn’t be harmed if the image were licensed, the court wasn’t able to intervene.

Ultimately, according to VVN’s report, the two sides ended up reaching an undisclosed agreement out of court, and the case was dismissed after the Foundation informed the judge they’d settled their differences. So if you see a familiar-looking banana on someone’s portable computing device a few months from now, just remember: Lou Reed wanted nothing to do with it.

Next: Top 10 Velvet Underground Songs

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