The photo on the cover of the magazine's art issue was shot by avant garde multimedia artist Robert Wilson in September 2005, during Wilson's staging of lifesize, high-definition video portraits which are featured in the issue.
TMZ reports that the actor didn't know at the time that the photo would be used for the story and didn't give permission to use the photo.
The magazine see things differently. "Brad Pitt posed for a Robert Wilson video portrait, and in the photo release (signed by Pitt), agreed to allow Wilson to use the portrait or any images from that sitting in connection with any publicity on Wilson's video project," Vanity Fair said in a statement given to The ShowBuzz Wednesday.
Vanity Fair says it decided to do a story on Wilson's video portraits and obtained rights to the entire collection of photographs from those sittings, including the shot of Pitt.
"In a letter dated Oct. 5, 2006, and sent to Pitt care of Brillstein-Grey, Wilson informed Pitt that a still image from his portrait was going to be featured in the December art issue of Vanity Fair," the magazine's statement said.
A source told TMZ that the actor never saw the aforementioned letter.
"We are very disappointed that Vanity Fair has chosen to put an unauthorized cover on their magazine. It seriously makes me question their integrity and motives," Guagenti said in a statement given to TMZ.
Vanity Fair's first art issue hits stands nationally on Nov. 7.
By Amy Bonawitz