(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Music news - Keep your hands off my banana

It's appropriate to talk about intellectual property on a day when much of the internet is protesting SOPA.

In a nutshell, the Velvet Underground is suing the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for trademark infringement to keep the iconic banana logo from being licensed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico
The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico album wouldn't have existed without Andy Warhol's influence as an artistic director and patron. On the music side, his main contributions were bringing Nico into the band and staying out of the band's other musical decisions. But it was Warhol's art scene and shock aesthetic that nurtured the Velvet Underground.

Andy Warhol's cover art, featuring the banana as a sticker (with an underlying skinned banana in pink), was simultaneously minimalist and subversive. The image itself was not trademarked or copyrighted.

That leaves the Velvet Underground making the argument that the image is indelibly associated with the band, which they claim effectively makes the banana their trademark. They argue that consumers would assume that the band tacitly supported commercial products using the image.

The challenge here is that The Velvet Underground & Nico's stark design doesn't include any other details beyond Andy Warhol's signature. So, any use of the banana alone is effectively a direct reference to the album. On the other hand, the banana isn't the same as the Rolling Stones' lips and tongue (John Pasche, 1970) or the Grateful Dead's "Steal Your Face" logo (Bob Thomas & Owsley Stanley, 1969).

I have a hard time getting behind the Velvet Underground on this one. Sure, there's a lot of money involved (a licensing deal with Apple triggered the lawsuit) and the image is associated with the band, but they didn't own the banana in the first place. On top of that, the band owes a debt to Warhol for his early support. Money changes everything.
And I guess that I just don't know
Oh, and I guess that I just don't know
The image at the top of this page is by artist Karen Ramsay. I sat for the drawing and licensed its use, but she owns the art. I'll let you know if she makes a deal with Apple...

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