Dean Guitars and estate of Pantera guitarist win copyright case

The case involved Darrell Abbott of the heavy metal band Pantera and a lightning bolt graphic on his guitar, which for decades has been an inseparable part of his persona and likeness.

On November 30, 2018, Dean Guitars and the estate of Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who was a member of heavy metal band Pantera, secured summary judgment in a copyright infringement and unfair competition case.

At the centre of the case was a lightning bolt graphic on Darrell Abbott’s “Dean from Hell” guitar, which for decades has been an inseparable part of Abbott’s persona and likeness. Issues involved included copyright, Lanham Act, invasion of privacy, and other state law claims. Plaintiff Buddy Webster p/k/a Buddy Blaze, a guitar builder who physically modified the Dean from Hell guitar, claimed that he owned the copyright in the lightning graphic.

After the case was transferred from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, it was uncovered in discovery that Webster did not actually paint the lightning graphic—another person did. That individual then assigned his copyright in the lightning graphic to Darrell Abbott’s estate.

In addition to arguing that Webster did not own the asserted copyright, it was argued that Dean Guitars repudiated Webster’s copyright ownership in a 2007 email, rendering his copyright claim time-barred. The court agreed. It also found for the defendants on the false advertising, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy claims. 

Douglas Rettew and Anna Naydonov, both partners at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP represented the victors.

The case is Buddy Webster v. Dean Guitars et al., 8:17-cv-01795, M.D. Florida, transferred from Buddy Webster v. Dean Guitars, 2:17-cv-03027, C.D. Cal.