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The Velvet Underground Come Up Short In Copyright Dispute

The banana that graces the cover of the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, is one of the lasting iconic images in rock & roll. However, that image is also at the center of a long-running legal dispute between the band and the estate of their former producer. From the looks of things, the band may lose the battle over its most lasting image: The Hollywood Reporter is claiming that a federal judge has dismissed a copyright claim by the band’s legal representatives over the image.

The surviving members of the Velvet Underground have been tied up in a legal dispute with the Andy Warhol Foundation over the picture since January. The Andy Warhol Foundation had been licensing the image-along with several other Warhol pieces-to different companies for products; the lawsuit stems from the Foundation’s decision to license the banana image for a series of iPhone cases. 

U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan, though, has found in favor of the Warhol Foundation, saying that the Velvets don’t have a valid copyright claim on the image. Nathan cited a promise made by the Warhol Foundation not to sue the band for the use of the image as a sign that the copyrights of the image aren’t being contested. On a certain level, it makes sense; while the banana sketch is most closely associated with the Velvet Underground, Warhol’s signature features prominently in the image.

On an unrelated note, Nathan’s decision also confirmed what many of the Velvets’ fans already knew: that the band “last performed in 1993 and will never perform together again.” The Velvet Underground have not been seen together since guitarist Sterling Morrison died in 1995.

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