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Thread: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

  1. #1
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    Default Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Hey guys.

    Since my repair business is growing very fast many people expressed their opinion I should try and make guitars as well. First of all, if I ever get to a point of building a few guitars on my own, this will still be a side-project to my repairs.

    Just recently I found a couple of luthiers/builder of solid body electrics in this part of Europe, and I was surprised to see almost all of them make rebadged replicas. I have seen Wolfgang/Axis clones, Strat clones, everything made up to specs with details and everything, only logos are different. For instance, what does King Bee or Big Tex have to do to keep their Teles looking just like Fenders with headstock and all, without getting into a copyright war?

    If I opt to make let's say 10 Strats or 10 Teles which will be given/sold to my loyal customers or close friends with an idea of a "taylor" made guitars, and just stick my logo on it, is that enough?
    I really like traditional shapes, like an LP, Tele, Strat, I would of course experiment with different materials but in the end it would look like a standard production guitar from the big guys.

    I know no one would ever care that some guy in some post-communist microcountry has built a couple of replicas, but I just want to make sure.

  2. #2
    Super Toneologist vinta9e's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    When building from scratch, why not design your own headstock shape, instead of just the logo?

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    Fuzzy. Guitars the guy who invented fire's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Clone builders that use a Fender headstock (Such as Big Tex, K Line, Danocaster, etc) must use licensed parts from a place that pays Fender for use of their headstock (such as All Parts, Warmoth, etc).

    However using a Fender logo is still out of the question and if you use a fender headstock shape on a neck you built from scratch get ready to hear from Fender...
    If you just read a post by The Guy Who Invented Fire please understand that opinions change, mind sets change and as players our ears mature...not to mention our needs grow and change. With that in mind, today I may or may not agree with the post you just read!

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    Mojo's Minions Dr. Vegetable's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Quote Originally Posted by the guy who invented fire View Post
    Clone builders that use a Fender headstock (Such as Big Tex, K Line, Danocaster, etc) must use licensed parts from a place that pays Fender for use of their headstock (such as All Parts, Warmoth, etc).

    However using a Fender logo is still out of the question and if you use a fender headstock shape on a neck you built from scratch get ready to hear from Fender...
    The last time I bought a "licensed" Fender headstock neck, it came with a notice that said it could only be used as a replacement part for an authentic Fender guitar. And that was without a logo of any kind.
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    RepententRodentologist darnright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Ibanez did this in the early seventies...hence "The Lawsuit" guitars.

    -dave
    I don't believe anything I say and only half of what you hear....

  6. #6
    Fuzzy. Guitars the guy who invented fire's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Vegetable View Post
    The last time I bought a "licensed" Fender headstock neck, it came with a notice that said it could only be used as a replacement part for an authentic Fender guitar. And that was without a logo of any kind.
    The terms depend on the builders licencing contract...
    If you just read a post by The Guy Who Invented Fire please understand that opinions change, mind sets change and as players our ears mature...not to mention our needs grow and change. With that in mind, today I may or may not agree with the post you just read!

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    Fuzzy. Guitars the guy who invented fire's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Quote Originally Posted by darnright View Post
    Ibanez did this in the early seventies...hence "The Lawsuit" guitars.

    -dave
    Laws have changed dozens of times since the lawsuit guitars of the 70's.
    If you just read a post by The Guy Who Invented Fire please understand that opinions change, mind sets change and as players our ears mature...not to mention our needs grow and change. With that in mind, today I may or may not agree with the post you just read!

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    Digitally Challenged Mr 9finger's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, and FMIC will slap down cease and desist orders on anyone using their body styles, headstocks, in the case of PRS, the birds of prey inlays, etc....Best to err on the side of caution with this stuff. Building for personal use is one thing, building to make money and make no mistake, the big guys will want their cut.
    Gear: More junk than I know what to do with

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker fingerace's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Won't it be easier to slightly modify the headstock shape (and body shape) and call the guitars T-style and S-style? Is that practice illegal?
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    Mojo's Minions KeeperOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Do take anything that I say with a big fat grain of salt since it is second-hand knowledge and hearsay but to the best of my knowledge the big guitar corps could only trademark their guitars' headstock and the entirety of their body shapes.
    So, the only thing that a US-based builder needs to do to avoid that is to make a guitar that has a couple of differences on the body, apparently even the smallest ones suffice, and not use the original headstock.

    Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the companies cannot apply said trademarks in other countries automatically but need to explicitly trademark the same thing for every country they need to defend their products in.
    If, for instance, Fender hasn't trademarked the Stratocaster headstock in your country specifically then they can't do anything to stop you from copying it.

    Finally, the lawsuit era guitars, again to the best of my knowledge only disallowed the Japanese companies that copied said guitars from selling them inside the US, they were never able to stop them from producing them or selling them inside Japan or indeed, anywhere outside of the US.
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  11. #11
    One of Jerry's Kids Securb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    We have a luthiers/builder in Boston called Mouradian Guitars that had a pretty good run in the 90's with his custom stuff. Elliot Easton (The Cars), Pat Badger (Extreme) and Chris Squire (Yes) were his big endorsers. His body style was a Fender body that he took a jigsaw to. Fender was none the wiser. He later sold out to Washburn.


  12. #12
    Tone Member Despised's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Quote Originally Posted by darnright View Post
    Ibanez did this in the early seventies...hence "The Lawsuit" guitars.

    -dave
    Quote Originally Posted by the guy who invented fire View Post
    Laws have changed dozens of times since the lawsuit guitars of the 70's.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr 9finger View Post
    Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, and FMIC will slap down cease and desist orders on anyone using their body styles, headstocks, in the case of PRS, the birds of prey inlays, etc....Best to err on the side of caution with this stuff. Building for personal use is one thing, building to make money and make no mistake, the big guys will want their cut.
    This is true. Ibanez were making Flying V's and a few Explorers back then in the same look, shape and style of the Gibson '58's, which is whay they got the cease and desist order. That's why you hardly ever see those guitars, or the double-neck they had that was like the Gibson EDS-1275...

    And yes, certain companies are so nit-picky as to the inlays as well - like PRS is with the birds. Even if you were to look at the skull and crossbone inlays from ESP versus anyone else, you'll notice that they aren't the same shape, pattern or even look. So by having even the slightest difference - as long as you can notice it with the eye - will be enough to be able to have your own shape(s) and designs and not have to worry about a cease and desist order from a larger company.

    But like Mr9finger stated - if your making a one-off for yourself or for someone's custom order, that's one thing. But making even a small run of 10 or 12 may wind up landing you contact from the actual manufacturer saying to stop.

    Quote Originally Posted by fingerace View Post
    Won't it be easier to slightly modify the headstock shape (and body shape) and call the guitars T-style and S-style? Is that practice illegal?
    ESP does something similar to this with such models as the Eclipse (different cut headstock shape, single cut on body is shaped differently, flag inlays as comapred to the trapezoid, ect...), the AW-7/ST/TE seires guitars (Strat or Tele shaped body and pickguard, slightly differently cut headstock shape, ect...)... But the EX series is the biggest example of this. James Hetfield was using a Gibson Explorer for years before they got the endorsement with ESP. Then ESP was making and selling the EXP model for a few years before Gibson finally told them to stop. Again, this is why it's difficult to find an actual ESP EXP Explorer today. Granted you can find them, but about the same price as the Gibson, or you can get an Edwards for about the same price also and it's as close to an actual ESP you can get without getting one from the Custom Shop. But look at the newer EX series as a result... Vastly different body shape cuts, ESP pointed non reversed headstock shape.

    So no, modifying certain features/cuts on the body and headstock shape is NOT illegal, and will allow you to have your own line of guitars.

    Quote Originally Posted by KeeperOS View Post
    Do take anything that I say with a big fat grain of salt since it is second-hand knowledge and hearsay but to the best of my knowledge the big guitar corps could only trademark their guitars' headstock and the entirety of their body shapes.
    So, the only thing that a US-based builder needs to do to avoid that is to make a guitar that has a couple of differences on the body, apparently even the smallest ones suffice, and not use the original headstock.

    Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the companies cannot apply said trademarks in other countries automatically but need to explicitly trademark the same thing for every country they need to defend their products in.
    If, for instance, Fender hasn't trademarked the Stratocaster headstock in your country specifically then they can't do anything to stop you from copying it.

    Finally, the lawsuit era guitars, again to the best of my knowledge only disallowed the Japanese companies that copied said guitars from selling them inside the US, they were never able to stop them from producing them or selling them inside Japan or indeed, anywhere outside of the US.
    This is why ESP is still making the EXP model, and basically making others like the Flying V, Strats and other models pretty much identical to it's competitors', but with certain neck profiles, different pickup configurations, bridges and so on that you normally wouldn't be able to get from the original company without again going Custom Shop. But that is why big name companies won't make certain models as a mass-produced model for obvious reasons in certain countries' markets. But that don't mean that you couldn't find, buy and have one of these Japanese made rarities shipped back to where ever, IF you've got enough money to cover the shipping back to where ever.

  13. #13
    Mojo's Minions
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    If you're in the US then you'd probably get into more trouble with copying, but Edwards makes close Gibson lookalikes for the Japanese market quite happily.

    The other thing is size. If you only make a handful of guitars I can't imagine the large companies actually realising you exist

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    I'd never go to a production level. And I wouldn't make it erm... let's say, a "legal business". I have a friend that owns a few CNC wood mills. That's all. I want to make five or six bodies and necks, then start putting them together one by one, making each a unique guitar, but I'd really like if I could copy a complete strat as far as a general shape goes (HS, body, rounded edges, contoured body etc etc) and slam original Fender hardware with blank neck plates etc. I'd never conceal it's true pretendocaster identity.

    I also wouldn't make them by order. To put it more politely, let's say I wanna make 5 strat copies for myself over a course of five or ten years, putting them together one by one, but then I get tired of them and sell them.

    It's paradoxal how laws sometimes work. What if someone buys a Warmoth's Strat neck which is supposed to be a replacement for a strat only, and puts it on his own uniquely-shaped homemade body? I bet none of these companies are ever concerned to what their licensed neck will bolt on to.

    Headstock design is a very frustrating process, especially if you're very fond of traditional things you're bombarded with. I simply cannot imagine a S-type guitar with a traditional pickguard not having the Fender's headstock shape. That's absurd in my book, but I like everything else that doesn't resemble a Strat completely, like superstrats without pickguards, edgy soloist designs like Jackson (and alike) with carved tops etc.

    Thanks for the input. After all if I make a few closet guitars no one would ever care what headstock design I used.

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    Mojo's Minions Edgecrusher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Something you want to keep in mind with this is even if you only make a few the moment you go to sell them you've just committed copyright infringement and by the rules of copyright a company must defend their copyright against those who violate it. If they dont then it can be declared abandoned and considered null. You may fly under the radar you may not. headstock shapes are more likely copyrighted. If you just want to build a strat why not either just use a licensed neck or seek out your own license? Also if your in europe you want to look into exactly what copyrights hold here and which dont. Some stuff that is copyrightable in the US is not here.
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    John Mayer's Mankini ImmortalSix's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Think about the spirit of copyright law: to prevent you from benefiting from someone else's work.

    Guitar companies and guitar technology is extraordinarily generous to small-time builders - we don't have to design hardly anything from scratch, and we can buy most things ready-made.

    So why not abandon trying to skirt, circumvent, or beat copyright law and make something new?

    Sure, you can make the headstock a slightly different shape, or you can grind a flat spot on the body, but zoom out and think to yourself - what is the point of that --- why are you doing it? Is it to make a better guitar?

    Signed,
    Hypocrite with a home-built Telecaster
    (but also 2 original design home-builds, too)
    ((none of which will be sold))
    Last edited by ImmortalSix; 04-08-2013 at 08:09 AM.

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    Kablamminator ratherdashing's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    ^ exactly what I was thinking.

    Innovate, don't imitate.

  18. #18
    Something Cool uOpt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    This isn't legal advice, just echoing a couple things you can learn in the press.

    First of all, this is about trademarks, not copyright, not patents. Important difference.

    For complete instruments it has been clarified that only the form of the head can't be used (has to be licensed) but not the shape of the body. This was a court decision of IIRC Suhr against Fender. You definitely want to look this up and learn all about the case.

    However, Gibson just went after Warmoth to stop Gibson body shapes because in their interpretation the above doesn't apply to Warmoth since they sell a body alone, not a complete instrument, so now the complete product is Gibson-shaped. This hasn't been tested in court and no case has been filed. Apparently Warmoth gave in.

  19. #19
    Mojo's Minions Edgecrusher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Quote Originally Posted by uOpt View Post
    This isn't legal advice, just echoing a couple things you can learn in the press.

    First of all, this is about trademarks, not copyright, not patents. Important difference.

    For complete instruments it has been clarified that only the form of the head can't be used (has to be licensed) but not the shape of the body. This was a court decision of IIRC Suhr against Fender. You definitely want to look this up and learn all about the case.

    However, Gibson just went after Warmoth to stop Gibson body shapes because in their interpretation the above doesn't apply to Warmoth since they sell a body alone, not a complete instrument, so now the complete product is Gibson-shaped. This hasn't been tested in court and no case has been filed. Apparently Warmoth gave in.
    Actually being hes not in the US it might all be moot he needs to check laws relevant for his jurisdiction.
    "It keeps you fit - the alcohol, nasty women, sweat on stage, bad food - it's all very good for you." -Bon Scott

    "Let me put it this way: the 5150 will treat
    you better than any girlfriend, because it screams louder, it's easier to pick up, and it shuts up when you take your plug out." -Rip Glitter

  20. #20
    Mojo's Minions
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    Default Re: Building replicas without copyright infringement?

    Just go over the the MLP luthiers forum.....plenty of builds of Les Pauls there by small time builders (and some ones of '59 replicas that are just perfect). Gibson or Fender aren't going to worry in the slightest about someone doing 5-10 guitars as that doesn't eat into profit really at all. All but the most skilled luthiers won't get every detail right, and by that stage you've spent much more than a real article anyhow if they're sold.

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