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Liability And Legal Issues With Copying Guitars

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My view is that it would be illegal. My reasoning for this is as follows:

Fred Bloggs has designed and built an electronic circuit. He holds the copyright and patent on this circuit.

John Smith studies this circuit and prints out a full schematic diagram, components list, and a circuit track overlay. He has so far committed no offence, but then he starts selling copies of the printouts. That is definitely illegal. This sort of case has been through the courts a number of times, always with a guilty verdict and a hefty fine/compensation ruling.

With accurate guitar templates, you are basically doing exactly the same thing that John Smith did, so surely it must be illegal.

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I used to own a 1979 Rickenbacker 4001 bass (my first bass!) and stupidly sold it in my callow youth. Now it would probably be worth $1500, and they run $1800-$2000 new. I've always wanted to make a copy for my own use. Rick is one of the few companies that seems to really ruthlessly pursue copyright on the design. I get a kick out of the "Chickenbacker" bass copies available through various shady outlets (Trade Tang, Alibaba Imports, etc). The name of the companies that sell them change every couple of months, must be how they stay ahead of Rickenbacker's lawyers, not that the Chinese give a hoot about trademarks or patents anyway. I wonder if they would bother to pursue a single one-time builder (maybe me) making a copy?

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If you are making a one time copy for your own use, no they would not persue you. The first step in any IP law suit is they send you a cease and desist letter. If you don't make anymore, they have no real complaint. Besides, how would they know?

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Oh sure, that much is quite clear. I don't even think that Rickenbacker would go after somebody building for personal use.

When a product appears on the common market that could feasibly dilute their trade dress, strength of branding or provide an alternative source for a "protected" product it is common to expect some sort of IP dispute. Some companies and their hounds are more feisty in pursuing this than others whilst some almost see it as a valid source of income. I'm not a big believer in monopolies. The place to fight these things is in the marketplace, not the courtroom.

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I'm curious as to how Perry is able to build Blackmachine copies, brand them as his own "Hypemachine" line, and legally sell them. I wrote to him and asked, but never received a response.

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Quite possibly the only territory there might be a problem is the UK market, and even then only if Blackmachine protected their intellectual property. I doubt that such a small company could mount a legal case against another - especially internationally - without it costing them more than they gain. Maybe.

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Mind you I didn't get through all 9 pages of content here, but I'm surprised that body/neck design isn't covered like clothing. Clothing is copywritten when it's drawn. The second you actually make the thing it becomes utilitarian and subject to everyone and their mother copying it without worry. The only thing I think they  could really hit you for is using their logo's and other trademarked designs.

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Not using a design for commercial reasons usually leaves you covered. I'm unsure as to how far Fair Use travels in this respect, however my current Rickenbacker-style bass build isn't problematic. They might try and fire off shots across the bows in case people get scared enough, but in general a lot of it is bullshit posturing. Here in Finland, a "Les Paul" guitar is now classed as a generic or ubiquitous design. So much so, the name means nothing any more in terms of a trademarked design. I'm sure it's more detailed than that, but mostly that's the long and short of it.

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I've been researching 'strat' style body files,  to start making router templates (using 'floyd rose' trem post dimensions) to be able to build build Queensland Maple bodies & pair them with 'Warmoth' necks.

From what I can understand, only the Stratocaster headstock is registered trade mark copyrighted. Apparently when Fender produced the Strat by the time they got around to protecting the design, other manufacturers had already been using it, so they only managed to secure the Headstock & 'FENDER' logo designs... Though with the amount of direct clones worldwide, it's impossible for Fender to enforce it unless the design copiers are medium/ large businesses......So having said that, has anyone got accurate DXF files of a  Strat body, with Floyd Rose trem post spacing centre points? Yes I could buya Fender body, but do they make them with Queensland Maple??  NO !!

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You're more or less on point there. I don't have a Strat DXF on hand I think, but I'll see what I can find in my archives.

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I'm late coming to the field of guitar making (as I am to this thread), although I first dreamed of making guitars and used to sketch out ideas when I was about 13 which is 44 years ago.

My thoughts will probably be regarded as slightly off-topic by some but unless somebody is either trying to gain from passing their work off as the genuine article or, for whatever reason, feels the need to prove that they can replicate the genuine article, I don't really understand why they make replicas.

For me, I want to express my creativity in my work. So far, due to resource restrictions, I have only made a kit guitar and I am in the process of making a body I have designed with a pre-made neck - but I hope that at some point, I will design and make all the bodies and necks.

When I was looking into how to get my own logo on the headstock, almost all the guides and materials I could find seemed to be oriented towards applying fake Fender logos. I was bewildered. Genuine Fender waterslide logos are for sale on eBay (along with countless fakes). How often does a Fender owner need to renovate their headstock to such a degree that they need to replace the logo?

Having said all that, I nominated the Stratodaster as a design classic a few years ago when I took a course which concerned the process of prototyping and iterating design as a general practice, i.e.not related to guitars, per se. When I recently put pencil to paper to design a new body, I started by inserting construction points which denoted essential or desirable features such as access to high frets, thigh rest, strap pins, etc. and when I connected the dots, it was almost impossible not to draw a Strat. I had to really distort my ideas to come up with anything which wasn't Strat, Les Paul, skeletal or 'spaceship' shaped. I think that this is borne out with all the Strat like but not precisely Strat shaped guitars.

My feeling, as far as Fender and Gibson are concerned is that maybe having done some market research they discovered that the fake market probably drives the sales of the genuine articles in that replicas allow an entry into the market for those with limited resources and the authentic guitars are aspirational and lead to future sales. Having not been able to afford anything other than copies in my youth (I owned a Daion Stratocaster copy and Marlin Sidewinder), I'll never forget the feeling I got many years later when I got my first Fender Stratocaster (which had a bit of a back story).

I have prints of paintings by Picasso and Géricault on my wall. Nobody thinks that they are genuine and their ubiquity is part of the mythos of the original. Without the copies, Fender might not have the status it has.

How an innovator approaches the matter of copyright might be a different matter, though. If somebody takes a design which somebody crafts with care and then starts churning them out cheaply, that must hurt but the evidence for legal action will hopefully be clear.

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Excellent post. For my own part, I like to replicate "originals" but with my own twist. A multiscale Telecaster. 7-string Jaguar. Things like that. As a professional manufacturing woodworker, I am responsible for setting up the processes, jigs and working steps for creating accurate repeatable end products. As @ScottR can attest, I love to make jigs....really heavy duty over the top precision jigs. Understanding the processes that manufacturers went down is a good mental exercise in evaluating their own journey through the problem and working the solution, even understanding where the balance between manufacturing efficiency/economy and end product quality lays. A process that produces a perfect end product that is also slow and cumbersome is not necessarily a good process in a manufacturing context. Making guitars however, allows me to completely overdo jigs and things like that just for the sake of it. If you're going to make a beautiful guitar, make a beautiful jig and enjoy the ride from wood to instrument. That is where I am more creative.

If you want to see the comedically bloody-minded and litigious, look for stories about Rickenbacker. They even harass makers producing instruments simply for their own use. That is something else completely.

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I can understand people's desires for "the genuine article" or something that resembles it. Iconic instruments are worship fodder in that respect. For my own part, I've always wanted to make a modded Gibson Flying V in the trim that Jim Martin had his back in the days of The Real Thing. A very cool look. I'd never put "Gibson" on the headstock however. That much is just stepping over the line from tribute to faker.

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As someone who would much rather create his own designs than build replicas, I can still recognize one valid reason (to me anyway) for building a replica and that is to improve whatever weak points the design has or to improve upon the construction quality. As Carl says, guitars become iconic for valid reasons. But nearly all mass produced guitars have inherent issues due to mass production methods. Nealy all of them can be made more playable in the neck joint transition area, and more comfortable with carves and still retain many characteristics of the iconic original. They should never display the original logo, though.

SR

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On 21/12/2017 at 2:23 PM, ScottR said:

As someone who would much rather create his own designs than build replicas, I can still recognize one valid reason (to me anyway) for building a replica and that is to improve whatever weak points the design has or to improve upon the construction quality.

For me, and my opinion of the Stratocaster as a design classic, unfortunately, its Achilles heel is the floating bridge. The negligible benefit, for somebody like me who finds the tremolo bar gets in the way more than it gets used, is far outweighed by the way it makes tuning so unstable. Tune one string up or down by a semitone and the rest are out by 1/5th of a semitone. I'm not claiming that as a scientific fact but just a beermat guess - if the tension on the floating bridge on one string is increased by X, it must compensate the tension on the other strings by X/5-ish, surely. Anyway, that's a rudimentary arithmetical way to explain the observation that when I'm tuning a string on my Strats or Strat copies, the process was not as simple as it is on any of my acoustic guitars until I decided to dispense with the tremolo, put full tension on the spring claw and tighten the screws down as far as they would go with the result that the bridge no longer floated. It's still possible to dive-bomb (which is all I ever did anyway) but the tuning is so much less hassle.

My first self-designed body tries to make use of the best bits of a Strat using a Strat scratch plate but trimming the fat somewhat and a hardtail. Actually, returning to the original topic, it did concern me that there are design elements which may be original and might get copied. Maybe my concerns are premature as it isn't finished yet and when it is, it might not be as well behaved as I hoped.

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