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?