The Velvet Underground surfaces in Warhol banana suit

Is it worth pursuing an intellectual property suit over the cover of an album depicting the picture of a banana? A band that broke up more than 30 years ago seems to think it is worth the cost, time and effort to protect its rights to a signed Andy Warhol design gracing the cover of “The Velvet Underground and Nico.”

Now-famous solo musicians Lou Reed and John Cale were among the four members of The Velvet Underground, who released the disputed album in the spring of 1967. Consumer response was tepid. The album sold just 10,000 copies, but the group later became well known to music fans in California and elsewhere.

Despite the poor album sales, the band’s original members are fighting to retain intellectual property rights to the design of the Warhol album cover. The Velvet Underground filed a lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Band members were reportedly upset to learn that the foundation had sold the Warhol banana design to the manufacturer of iPod and iPad carrying cases. Although the former band members never registered the famous artist’s banana with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, members believe they own the design because they have had a 45-year association with it.

Court papers call the banana an iconic symbol of the band, designed for one album, but used as for later recordings. The Velvet Underground feels the banana and the band are so intertwined that the banana was once pictured in a vodka ad using the words “Absolut Underground.”

Legal experts say the band’s key to victory lies within its ability to prove that the public feels that the banana is an inseparable trademark. With Warhol being an equally iconic figure, the band’s attorneys will have to prove that people think of the band, and not the artist who created the iconic image, when they see it.

Source: online.wsj.com, “Warhol’s Banana in Lawsuit,” Ashby Jones, Jan. 12, 2012