Gibson sues Dean Guitars, claims copyright infringement
Gibson sues Dean Guitars over Trademarks
That was quick! Hot on the heels of the Play Authentic video hosted by Mark Agnesi comes news that Gibson is following up on its threat – and taking a guitar maker to court for infringing on its copyrights! We understand that Gibson is suing Dean Guitars and its parent company, Armadillo Distribution Enterprises Inc.
According to Guitar.com, Gibson is accusing Armadillo of infringements on seven of its trademarks. These include the body shape design of the Flying V, Explorer, ES and SG, as well as the Dove Wing headstock design, the Hummingbird name and also the Moderne trademark.
The suit was filed in the United States District Court For The Eastern District Of Texas in May, but amended on 6 June 2019, a week before that Play Authentic video was uploaded onto YouTube.
Dean has been making the guitars since 1977, when Dean Zelinsky founded the company. The V and Z models have become staples of the Dean brand. The V celebrated its 30th birthday with a special anniversary model back in 2007.
Gibson is trying to say that people could be fooled into thinking a Dean guitar is in fact a Gibson, as they are filing Trademark Counterfeiting. That means they could ask for much higher damages from Dean. Gibson has allegedly requested a jury trial to resolve the case. I have also heard that Gibson is seeking Armadillo’s profits, damages sustained by Gibson, the costs of the action, and the profits and damages “to be trebled or otherwise multiplied to the extent permitted by statute”.
Gibson would potentially have the option of pursuing statutory damages of around $14 million – $2 million for each of the seven trademarks that it is claiming for.
Armadillo CEO Evan Rubinson describes the lawsuit as “completely unfounded”:
“We respect and value the intellectual property rights of others. But … some things are just too common and basic for one company to claim as their own property … We want to vigorously defend ourselves and seek to cancel Gibson’s alleged trademark registrations.”
Play Authentic Backlash
The backlash from the (pulled) Play Authentic Mark Agnesi video has already hit the internet hard this week. Images and video responses are all over guitar forums while social media is full of responses to Mark’s message.
Below is a typical response from one such site.
I am no lawyer, but I do remember the failed Gibson lawsuit against PRS over their Singlecut design, the one that Gibson said looked like a Les Paul. That law suit was thrown out and Paul Reed Smith happily makes and sells his Singlecut design to this day.
Does chasing Trademarks help the brand?
I’m inclined to say that I think Gibson is rapidly destroying its own reputation with this latest legal claim. We all know they had to pull the Play Authentic video days after it was posted on YouTube because of the huge the backlash from players and guitar makers.
By going after other brands the company is slowly damaging any credibility they have left. If they had protected themselves from day one, I could understand it. But by acting out now in 2019, which is 60 plus years since these designs came into being, they’ve kind of missed the boat on protecting these trademarks.
I cannot see how focusing money and energy on legal battles will help their cause. If anything it will just put customers off the brand. You can own the trademarks Gibson, but if you cannot be bothered to protect your brand for 60 odd years and then go on to sell poorly made, high-priced versions of the guitar designs, don’t expect the guitar community to be behind you.
Another question: Is Dean a threat to Gibson? I don’t know anyone that has ever gone out and seen a Dean guitar and believed it to be a Gibson. Can Dean build better guitars then Gibson? Who knows, but I honestly do not see Dean as a threat.
Appetite For Destruction
I do however see Gibson as a threat to themselves. My advice is: Make great guitars, sort out your quality control and get realistic about the pricing. If it wasn’t for luthiers like Kris Derrig, you’d have gone under 30 years ago.
Derrig built the amazing copy of a ’59 Les Paul that Slash played on the first Guns’n’Roses album Appetite For Destruction. If it wasn’t for that one guitar, I personally think that Gibson might have folded years ago. The ’80s were full of Kramer guitars and Super Strats, nobody wanted a Gibson Les Paul any more. They were seen as poorly made and heavy “dad guitars”. And other companies could make a better Les Paul than Gibson could. You couldn’t give them away.
The company in my opinion needs to hire great guitar builders and luthiers as well as quality control managers that can actually play the guitar. Then possibly lay off some legal advisors and middle management. Just build great guitars. PRS can and do it all day long, so why can’t you?
- Gibson V and Dean V: Dean Guitars/Gibson
- Gibson Play Authentic Backlash: thefretboard
I’m not trying to be antagonistic here, but Gibson have a point. Most discussions online seem to center around the notion that it’s professional/gigging guitar players who’d buy a guitar, and that there’s no way someone would confuse a Gibson with a Dean.
In my own experience, more often than not guitars are bought as gifts by people who don’t play themselves and who could not tell a Gibson from a Dean. Yeah, I know, it says right on the headstock that it’s a Dean. But still, many buyers who are not familiar with guitars wouldn’t immediately realize that it’s Dean the brand but assume it’s Dean the model made by Gibson.
Something to ponder. Incidentally, I think that’s the argument Gibson would be making in court.
Approaching it from another angle, why does a Dean look like it does? Now every guitar player would say, “Of course. Because that’s the design that works.” Exactly. At that point they are actually admitting that someone put the research and experience up front, and doing so costs money. And that somebody is actually only two companies in the field: Gibson and FMIC. The majority of their competitors are profiting from the research and experience that these two companies paid for.
Of course I’d have no issue if other companies sued Gibson and FMIC for infringing their own inventions, but apparently there’s no strong case for that.
So Gibson’s position is if an idiot can confuse the two guitars they should have redress. Good luck with that. BTW, Gibson has never actually tested their most valuable trademark-the “mustache headstock” design actually in court so they might want to tread carefully before they bet the farm on stuff like this.
Not “an idiot” but Joe Sixpack. Yes, indeed, that’s why trademarks exist.
“Joe Sixpack” isn’t that stupid.
my girlfriend didn’t know the difference between a Fender Strat and a Gibson SG. Since Fender came with the Strat 1st, should Fender sue Gibson?
This is the worst possible thing Gibson could do to their reputation.
I guess that the new corporate buyout owners at Gibson don’t really care about actually making well built guitars at reasonable prices, but instead will try to make some money from legal settlements before they abandon this brand, whose already damaged reputation they have now cpmpletely shat upon.
No way will I buy even an Epiphone from this company anymore!!!!
By the way, if Gibson’s designs are so “generic”, as Dean claims, it should be a walk in the park to invalidate them with the Trademark Office, right? And yet, Dean have never done that. Why? Because they know they’d not succeed.
Saying, as Dean does, that the designs are so generic but they’re just going to go ahead and infringe on them instead of attacking the trademark registrations first is really no better than Chinese companies infringing on US products. In fact, most of them are making the exact same argument.
By the way:
In the first reaction to the infamous YouTube video people were saying that, apparently, Gibson wants to go after “Chinese counterfeiters”. Now they are saying, “Oh, wait, why is Gibson attacking an American company?”
As a matter of fact, the vast majority of infringing Dean guitars are manufactured in China, Korea and Indonesia. So if anything, Dean’s market behavior is proving Gibson’s point: the designs are stolen, and the knockoffs come from cheap labor countries.
That a few infringing Dean guitars are produced in the US doesn’t help the case, but make it worse. Look at this:
Even though the design is clearly stolen from Gibson, they’re actually calling this “patents pending”. How on earth can they make the argument that they’re not infringing on Gibson’s trademarks because the design would be so generic, and at the same time make the argument that their models’ designs are “patents pending”?
I kind of believe Gibson missed the boat on this, as the V and Explorer came out in the late ’50s and every guitar builder has been using these shapes for the last 60 years. SIXTY YEARS of not caring on Gibson’s part and then this? Come on, who are they kidding with this legal action now?
There’s no way for you to know that Gibson did not care about it. As a matter of fact, Gibson has been underwater since the 80s, so using capital to go after unfair competition was probably never an option until now. People are claiming that the hedge managers are pushing Gibson over the cliff on this one, but maybe it’s the exact opposite: now that Gibson is properly funded they’re doing something they should have done decades ago.
This is the same company that spent all their money on buying up other brands under Henry and failed to take off as a ‘consumer lifestyle brand’ after launching amongst other things Speakers with Sunburst finishes. On May 1, 2018, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as they had over reached financially and made nothing but poor business decisions for many years. Pretty sure that their failed ‘Authentic Hendrix’ guitars looked a lot like another American guitar company’s design as well.
Right, so now you’re attacking Gibson for mistakes that are – what? 5 years in the past? Yet in another thread just last week you were defending and even promoting Mooer, a Chinese knockoff company, after they were convicted of stealing Electro-Harmonix’s IP just 4 months ago. Dude. That’s a new low.
So by that logic, it was okay for Gibson to copy a guitar body shape 5 years ago? I also wrote that Mike Matthews won his court case against Mooer. And then Mooer released another product. That was the news and that is why I write it.We don’t promote, we write news and give opinions on the news, instead of just releasing press releases.
The Gibson Hendrix was not created 5 years ago but 10 years ago. And it never went into retail, unlike the Dean Flying V which are sold right now.
Keep on bashing.
You’re right, it was the Gibson Pro Audio LP6 that were 5 years ago and the Authentic Hendrix that was before that. My point is, if they concentrated on making what they are known for and stopped chasing ridiculous new products, then we might get some consistency from the brand. Currently I own two Gibson Les Pauls and one SG, plus two Epiphone Flying V models. I had to buy the Epiphone models as the US ones were so poor and I needed a guitar that would play/stay in tune. The Epi models are fine, yet all the US Gibson ones I tried out were terrible. I’ve owned Custom Shop and Standard models, yet quality control has been an issue on every one of them. I own PRS and this has never been a problem with any of these. Both brands are US handmade instruments with Far Eastern budget models. Why is Gibson chasing 60 year trademark infringements now? To protect the brand heritage? My opinion is that it is doing the opposite, they are making themselves look foolish in the guitar community. They should do what Fender did in the ’80s. Rethink, get rid of poor quality output and start making exceptional guitars that are affordable. Instruments that players want to use, gig with and record songs with. The reason the Authentic Hendrix did not go into production, was that photos leaked at the time and the guitar community turned against Gibson. They made a huge mistake, similar in magnitude to the one they are making now. The guitar community will not take them seriously after this.
Looks at his thread for example of the Gibson ‘Heritage’ and ‘Quality’
dude stfu. gibson has stolen guitar designs in the past and SOLD them. they did last year with that new flying v they showed at CES and later SOLD. jackson made that guitar FIRST. it was the roswell rhoads. gibson STOLE the open book headstock design. gibson STOLE their acoustic design from martin. and this is just a short list of the stuff they have stolen. this is all about getting their asses out of their jacked up financial situation because they are SCARED to compete in a free market and nothing more. keep gargling on gibsons dangly bits.
This will end up being no different than the Lotus “look and feel” suit for drop-down menus that happened years ago. They may have designed it, but the “use” had made it so prevalent and generic that there was no enforcible copyright violation. PS: I own Gibson gtrs and have for 30+ yrs.. This will end up hurting them, just like SCO sueing Sun for using copyrighted code in Java releases.
I feel like this is just kind of a d***head move that totally flies in the face of any sense of musical community and artistic expression. Not for nothing, but I feel like I’ve seen Gibson put out their own versions of guitars that have been built and developed by smaller companies and luthiers that are initially inspired by their original designs. So are they going to retroactively sue anyone who’s built a double-cut bass with TB style pickups? Or anyone who’s built a guitar with a trapeze tailpiece and p-90’s?… I imagine this will do more to hurt the company’s reputation than anything else.
Not cool man, not cool.
You can bet this whole boneheaded affair will be driven by the corporate suits who only understand litigation & maximising shareholder returns – they bought a famous brand & are now intent on milking the legend rather than revitalising & refocussing the business itself.
FUCK GIBSON! Oh wait, fuck all effects pedal builders aswell. haha You have to realize, that most pedals are also a copy of everything else. I mean. I build individual pedals, (best on the market for what they are) hahaha, and they are absolutely 100% a big rip off, of designs of pedals that came before them. Example: Catalinbread, wampler, this and that, are ALL rip off designs of pedals that came before them. The people building those pedals are NOT experts with design and science majors. They are home bodies with a hobby that decided to clone and change a few things and put them in different boxes with innovative switches and then call the new designs, a break through, or something like that. Noobs get down on their knees and want to swallow a big load from some of these builders with silly company names, as if they are masters of the art of guitars and pedal building etc, when in fact, they are: do it yourself hobby builders who decided to rip off other companies because there is zero regulation of the industrial. And there actually shouldn’t be regulation, because it is an art form, and anyone has the right to build what ever they want. “” You cant regulate it!!! “” Gibson and can fuck themselves, because they have been terribly run for a number of years now. You stay up to date and build good shit, or you piss off. Many times when you go into a store to try a Gibson, its friggin shit, the frets are shit, the action is horrendous, etc. Most decent fenders are not too bad off the shelf, but most Gibson’s need a lot of work to be a good guitar these days, even the expensive ones. And thats not on. Stay on your game or shut your doors Gibson, don’t cry and try to sue people when others come along who are making much better guitars than you are at present, and you are loosing sales because of your useless marketing and loss of sales because your guitars are way over priced and play like junk. My view: I support ripping others off via the competition factor of building a better model of a pedal, amp, guitar etc, of what is already out there. This makes each and every builder stay on their game and keeps things we like to buy at the highest levels of quality possible. When i see a builder cutting too many corners of an over priced item, then bye bye!!
As a musician, I would be pissed if someone stole my music to use in say…a background to Trump’s victory speech. This seems like the same thing, Gibson should be able to control who uses their trademarks. Its not like Dean is angelic. If Dean makes better guitars than they should have no problem selling original designs. Maybe Gibson saw the opportunity when the trust fund kid was put in charge: