20 April 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

Pantera guitarist’s estate fends off copyright claims

The estate of  Pantera guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott has prevailed in a copyright dispute with a guitar designer over the lightning bolt design associated with the late musician.

Guitar technician Buddy Webster sued Abbott and  Dean Guitars in 2017 over replicas of the musician’s ‘Dean from Hell’ guitar, which he said infringed his copyright for the featured lightning bolt graphic.

But the  US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled that his claims are time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations.

Lawyers for Dean and the Abbott estate argued that Webster was not the rightful owner of the copyright for the design, which he only registered in 2016. Dean’s CEO had also challenged Webster’s claim of ownership of the design in a 2007 email.

The Eleventh Circuit has ruled that Webster had three years from that 2007 email to sue for infringement.

Doug Rettew and Anna Naydonov, partners at  Finnegan law firm in Washington, DC, were part of the team that represented Dean and Abbott’s estate before the appeals court.

“We are honoured to have been able to obtain this victory for rock icons Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the Pantera band, and Dean Guitars,” they told WIPR.

“The ‘Dean from Hell’ guitar will always have a special place in the hearts of Pantera fans, and we are excited to have played a role in vindicating Dean’s and Pantera’s right to continue offering reproductions to the public,” they added.

According to Rettew and Naydonov, the court’s decision is legally significant because “for the first time, it establishes precedent from the Eleventh Circuit on the statute of limitations for copyright cases that centre on ownership claims”.

Webster, commonly known as Buddy Blaze, modified a Dean ML guitar for Abbott in the 1980s and commissioned an artist to paint the lightning graphic on it.

The guitar became known as Abbott’s ‘Dean from Hell’. Abbott signed an endorsement deal with Dean Guitars in 2004 for guitar models based on the design. Later that year, Abbott was shot dead during a concert in Columbus, Ohio.

The guitar maker has since continued to sell models based on the ‘Dean from Hell’. The company soon became embroiled in a dispute with Webster, who claimed that he owned the rights for the lightning graphic design.

The then-CEO of Dean, Elliot Rubinson, told Webster in a 2007 email that as far as he was aware, Abbott’s estate owned the rights for the design. The company paid royalties to the estate, rather than Webster, for use of the design on the ‘Dean from Hell’ replicas.

From that point to 2016, Dean sporadically released new models based on the ‘Dean from Hell’, before that year Webster “finally had enough” and obtained a copyright registration for the design.

The following April, Webster sued Dean and Abbott’s estate for copyright infringement at the US District Court for the Central District of California.

The California federal court ruled in favour of the defendants, declaring that Webster had left it too long to file suit. According to the court, the crux of Webster’s case was his ownership claim over the design.

That meant that, once Dean had called into question his ownership of the lightning graphic in the 2007 email, he had three years under the statute of limitations to sue for infringement.

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