Heritage sues Gibson

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by Ricochet, Mar 19, 2020.

  1. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    As George Harrison reminded us, All Things Must Pass. It’s a shame that Heritage is not the same company it once was, but I hope that their product line goes on for a long time.
     
    Tadhg, Ricochet and Jelly Roll Horton like this.
  2. Jelly Roll Horton

    Jelly Roll Horton Country Gent

    Nov 10, 2017
    Portland, OR
    Would you buy a used car from this man?
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  3. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Petaluma
    I have no problem with the Gibson owners want to turn a buck, they've already lost money on the business. But I just don't think this strategy will actually work.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  4. GlenP

    GlenP Synchromatic

    910
    Jul 23, 2019
    WA
    Yeah, a Heritage Roy Clark signature is still on my bucket list of guitars.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  5. knavel

    knavel Synchromatic

    915
    Dec 26, 2009
    London, England
    The image problem resulting from such legal aggression (by John Hall) doesn't seem to have hurt Rickenbacker any!

    On top of this, posters in this thread have talked about what jerks Gibson reps were to dealers, etc. I've had John Hall attack me directly in a discussion about Rickenbacker pickups and that sort of thing too hasn't hurt his company any as far as I see.

    KKR is a bottom line business who sees the name "Gibson" the way it would see any product it might have in its portfolio--no friends, no enemies, just business: "Is it a performing asset, and if it is not, or could perform better, what could be done to bring this about?"--the ultimate goal being to increase the value of that asset, which happens as a result of better financials.

    Rightly or wrongly (and again Rickenbacker's fortunes would indicate "rightly"), aggressive policing of Gibson's intellectual property is something its board and its shareholder sees as facilitative in increased financial performance.

    What is very unusual about this particular Heritage case is that it doesn't involve alleged infringements of trademarks or copyrights--it involves breach(es) of contract. That makes it different to most every case Fender, Gibson, Martin, Rickenbacker, Gretsch-dom that one usually sees which are almost invariably intellectual property based.

    What this is not is whether Gibson is a good company, a nice company, who makes better guitars, etc etc, even though those are certainly fair points of discussion. What Heritage is essentially hoping to do is to clarify judicially that any intellectual property claim Gibson might have against them is prevented by the terms of Heritage's licence from Gibson. We will see.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  6. Tadhg

    Tadhg Gretschie

    169
    Aug 8, 2019
    Qld - Australia
    I think the reason why Gibson and Rickenbacker are seen differently in regards to their litigious nature is framed by two key points.

    Firstly, Rickenbacker's seen as a small, family owned company, whereas Gibson's the corporate behemoth. If Gibson were still owned by the family (like Martin), then perhaps attitudes would be different. If Gibson weren't selling Epiphones hand over fist, then perhaps attitudes would be different.

    Secondly, it's about time frames. Gibson just lost in Europe (last year) about V's, because they didn't attempt to enforce any copyright over that shape for 40 years. People don't use the headstocks because they're clearly under copyright. People vary the shapes as required, generally. But the current rash of suits seem, to my eye, to be largely about products from companies that have been in manufacture for more than 30 years, indicating that they didn't have a problem for a long time, and suddenly they want to make cash. So it appears that they're being frivolously and vindictively litigious, because, when they've not enforced any copyright for 30 years, they're not likely to win the cases.
    Compare that with Rickenbacker, who've been litigious, judicious and consistent in their enforcement of claims around their IP for decades. Part of the issue is Gibson's inconsistency, against Rickenbacker's consistency.

    You're absolutely right about this case being different. It's fascinating that Heritage is, in its publicity, attempting to redraw the lines of conflict to be something closer to the other suits - they're trying to draw that big bad Gibson is attempting to retrospectively claim ownership of copyright over products made by another manufacturer. As opposed to Gibson's public complaint - which reads more reasonably, certainly more reasonably than anything we've heard from Gibson in a long while - that they're not suing Heritage, but rather they're trying to clarify with Heritage that the products the new owners have introduced are outside the original handshake agreement, made between owners at each company who are no longer involved with either company.

    And you're right that this isn't about whether companies are good, nice, purveyors of quality products and the like is irrelevant here. It's all about whatever was included in the handshake agreement from over 35 years ago, an agreement of which there's likely no witnesses still involved.
     
    Stefan87 and Ricochet like this.
  7. englishman

    englishman Gretschified

    Age:
    62
    Apr 5, 2014
    Detroit
    I have to mention I'm continually amazed by Rickenbacker's snooty attitude to their consumers. The constantly exploding "R" tailpieces is a good example. The weakness has been there for years and yet they refuse to alter the design. The 'tail lift' on 4000 series basses is another. I guess you need to be careful what you wish for when you want the factory to stick to the vintage designs.
     
  8. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    Atlanta
    I remember we had this particular discussion not long ago. I wonder if part of Gibson's lawsuit stems from this? IE, BandLab is larger and has deeper pockets and is not a US based company?
     
    GlenP and Ricochet like this.
  9. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    Atlanta
    I think Rickenbacker have been at the forefront of being aggressive and it seems to work. How are they successful and Gibson is apparently not? Are they just smarter about copyrighting their designs?
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  10. knavel

    knavel Synchromatic

    915
    Dec 26, 2009
    London, England
    In many instances it's just the size of Rickenbacker's war chest--the old 800 lb gorilla.

    In USA in particular, there is no "loser pays". So for a guy like, e.g., Jason Lollar--who makes outstanding pick ups by the way--it's either spend himself into bankruptcy in legal fees (and I have to hire lawyers in London, it doesn't take long to accomplish this) and throw the dice, or just e.g., change the name of his pickup from "toaster" to "broiler" (even though it seems pretty clear to me that Rickenbacker did not originate the reference "toaster", it's fan base did, meaning John Hall basically appropriated the word).

    Path of least resistance.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  11. stevo

    stevo Friend of Fred

    May 1, 2012
    Atlanta
    Interesting - I wouldn't have seen Rickenbacker as having a bigger war chest. Nonetheless, why does Gibson seem to keep losing but not Rickenbacker? They could certainly adopt the same tactics.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  12. knavel

    knavel Synchromatic

    915
    Dec 26, 2009
    London, England
    You make excellent points. The first one I would lump in with my earlier point that it's not a question of quality, etc, as the law doesn't care about that and I appreciate your recognition of this. In this instance, it's immaterial in the eyes of the law that Rickenbacker is viewed as a family business whilst Gibson is some massive conglomerate: The law applies to both enterprises the same.

    You point, however, is very important in terms of good will and market perception. I definitely think that you are right when you posit that the market may excuse Rickenbacker's legal aggression more readily than Gibson's. Not me, but I am just one guy--I despise Rickenbacker more than any other guitar manufacturer. Second is Martin, but I can't say why lest I might get banned for violating the rules of this forum. I will say that the way I keep to my personal standards is (1) I own no Rickenbacker made after 1984 when F.C. Hall handed the company to John Hall; and (2) I own no Martins (never will need to as nothing on earth will ever top my 1961 Epiphone Texan).

    I also happen to know people who have worked with (not at) KKR. Staff are highly paid but it's not a nice place to work. I only mention this as I don't expect KKR see the nuance you do in terms of Gibson vs Rickenbacker legal aggression, for better or for worse.

    Your second argument is squarely legal and I have wondered about that myself: In legalese, I would summarise as "has Gibson's waived it's IP or allowed it to lapse?" e.g., after allowing someone to make a Flying V for 40 years and suddenly telling that party they cannot do so, will the court throw out their claim on the basis of waiver or lapse. I haven't followed the cases at all, but it sounds like from your post and others in this thread that Gibson is having a bit harder time of it along these lines.

    Such legal outcome seems consistent with the fact that anyone can make and sell a Strat, Tele or body, but not a Fender or Gibson looking headstock: The body style wasn't correctly protected in the 50s but the headstock is a trademark (I think, rather than copyright*) because Fender / Gibson uses that headstock on most all of their guitars.

    Trademark law is fundamentally designed to prevent consumer confusion and so the law backs up the concept that when people see a certain headstock they think "Gibson", "Fender", etc.

    *The reason I don't think copyright law is the best thing to rely on is that copyright protects expression, not ideas. And there is also the merger doctrine--ie that the form can't be separted from the expression (in US law schools at least in every copyright class early in the course there is that case where a guy tried to sue that someone copied his ledger book. The court said basically said sorry anyone drafting a ledger would result in something that looks like this--the merger of expression and idea).

    Of course if I were Gibson's lawyer I would still assert copyright if I could in good faith. I really should read the cases, but I think the main reason Gibson is losing and Rickenbacker is not largely comes down to the resources of the target. In Rickenbacker's case it's a guy like Jason Lollar working out of his garage; in Gibson's it's other decently sized manufacturers who won't so willingly play dead.
     
    Tadhg and Ricochet like this.
  13. knavel

    knavel Synchromatic

    915
    Dec 26, 2009
    London, England
    A good example of how the reality of resources of the respective sides results in what are quite possibly unfair legal outcomes like I'm talking about with Rickenbacker and someone like Lollar is basically the issue of a Rick Beato video I saw recently.

    Rick Beato is a guy whose youtube trade is breaking down songs that everyone knows and loves with the enthusiasm for the songs we all had when we were 18 and first heard them.

    In this video he quite rightly, in my view, states that using a song to instruct on music theory is at least very arguably something protected by the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law. However, the system is stacked against him because YouTube, not a court of law, is the arbiter of this. One can appeal YouTube's decision, but if he loses three times on this basis the account is blocked. Hence the path of least resistance, like with Jason Lollar vs Rickenbacker, is to capitulate.

     
    Ricochet likes this.
  14. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    Exactly.

    Let me frame it differently; would you buy a luxury car from this man? I remember visiting a Cadillac dealer when I was a child. The atmosphere was completely different than what you’d see in a Ford, Chevy or Plymouth dealership. There was an air of dignity and decorum. A Cadillac buyer in the ‘60s was a professional person or a successful businessman. The transaction was serious and business-like. Such customers expected to be treated respectfully and would walk away if the sales people tried some shabby trick to get the better of them.

    In the same timeframe, I visited the local Gibson dealer, Bach Music. (Yes, they were related to J.S. Bach.) It was a serious store and had an atmosphere not unlike the Cadillac dealer. (Particular to the tow I was born in, most of these people we’re probably Mayo Clinic fellows.) In fact, the same people that bought Cadillacs were the people that bought higher end pianos over at Bach’s. At the time, Gibson was the Cadillac of guitars. Buying a Gibson said that you had arrived in the same way that buying a Cadillac did.

    Ok, the world has changed drastically since then. Cadillac used to state that they were the Standard for the World, but that’s laughable these days. Gibson has new sources of competition as well and one could argue that they have lagged behind with regard to innovation, but it’s not that simple.

    If I bought a brand new ‘58 Cadillac, it would not be a good choice for today’s world. I’d be far better off in a new Corolla, with regards to safety, efficiency and probably even performance. But a ‘58 ES 335 is absolutely viable in 2020. They are somewhat saddled by their legacy products and, strangely, they’ve had limited success, at best, in bringing new innovations into their line.

    Gretsch has the same challenge, but they are bringing new models to the table that preserve the image of the brand, but also accommodate the demands of younger players. It’s almost as if Cadillac were to bring out a smaller model with RWD, 4 wheel independent suspension and designed to compete with BMW. (Just a second, they actually did that.) But, while I’m not a likely customer for Gretsch’ newer offerings, I am not the target market for those products. Gretsch keeps their legacy lineup intact, but offers some completely new models, plus the “Player’s Editions” which bring new features to legacy models. But I digress.

    Gibson needs to figure out who they are. I’m no more interested in buying a Gibson from a company that projects their public image with a guy that looks like an over aged skateboarder or has a CEO that looks like an Elliott Gould wannabe than a Cadillac buyer of the ‘60s would have had in buying a new Sedan DeVille from a hippie. If I’m going to buy a $10,000 guitar, I intend to buy it from a company that strikes me as taking their business very seriously. I want to know that if there is a warranty issue, I’ll be dealing with people whom are reliable and will apply good business ethics in handling the issue. In that sense, they are still much like Cadillac of the ‘60s.

    As I see it, Gibson’s problem is the middle ground. They sell plenty of Epiphones and the high end archtop market is minuscule, but they still command a great deal of respect. But the LP, 335, etc. market is their challenge. Frankly, I don’t think they are going to succeed in this segment. There are too many choices and their clout as a legacy player is no longer enough to keep them viable in this market. So I see the company’s future as continuing the Epiphone business model as is, the very high end stuff going boutique or custom shop only and the middle of the line probably ending up offshored, unless they can cement their quality to the point where their prices are justified. Perhaps I can sum up my thoughts on Gibson’s midrange in one statement: if I absolutely needed an ES 335 tomorrow I’d buy a Heritage sight unseen, because their quality justifies the price. Until Gibson learns that lesson, they will continue to flounder and lash out at everyone except their worst enemy, which is their inconsistent quality.
     
  15. Stefan87

    Stefan87 Synchromatic

    530
    May 20, 2019
    Brisbane, Australia
    Lol i couldn't be a used car salesman, am too honest, my figures would be terrible.

    I have worked in retail/customer service/sales my whole working life and in my opinion value for money and customer service are the two most important things to the buyer, if they see the value for their money they will buy a product, if they get excellent customer service before, during and after the sale they will come back.

    Maybe if Gibson focused on this they might get some people back on board.
     
    dougmon, Ricochet and G5422T like this.
  16. G5422T

    G5422T Country Gent

    May 24, 2012
    usa
    Yep, Marketing 101. It works, but is just so hard to grasp by some companies.
     
    Stefan87 and Ricochet like this.
  17. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    Exactly. When companies are truly customer focused, they will prosper. When they become inwardly focused they step away from goodness.
     
    Stefan87 and Ricochet like this.
  18. radd

    radd Country Gent

    Dec 27, 2017
    Santa cruz

    I think there was a time that was more true than it is today. There are so many possible customers for many companies around the world that they have become much less individual customer oriented or driven.

    Companies always have needed to make a profit but now with such a global market place bean counters drive the products and product development more than ever.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  19. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    That might work for the short term, but it is death in the long term. With ANY purchase, I am looking for service, quality and value. Sure new money and inexperienced purchasers can be duped, but the long game is what counts. The last I heard, Gibson is fighting for its continued existence. It was reorganized, but that is no guarantee of success.
     
    Ricochet likes this.
  20. Tadhg

    Tadhg Gretschie

    169
    Aug 8, 2019
    Qld - Australia
    Rickenbacker would have a larger war chest than Lollar or the people they sue. They haven't sued Gibson or Fender, only smaller players. The sooner you stomp on the competition, the easier it is to do it. You don't pull weeds when they're as big as the main plants, you deal with them when they're just sprouting, so it's easy to see what's a weed and what you intended to grow in the garden.


    You've got what I was trying to say. :cool:
    The first point is all PR, the second point is also PR, but is also applicable to why I think they're losing cases.
    I also agree, it's probably more related to trademark than copyright, and I acknowledge I'm not helping by using them interchangeably (but I'm not a legal expert), but they tend to be used almost interchangeably in conversations on these topics.



    That point - that a 58 ES 335 is a viable option in 2020 - is something Fender has addressed very well. But it's still something they struggle with, and it's interesting to see the hypotheses around how they deal with it. A recent idea going around the internet was that the reason they revamp the model line up every couple of years is to confuse people into think they've changed something, and they need to upgrade. "It's not a USA Standard Strat anymore, it's now a Player's Series."
    And then, they re-use old names for their products, but on different model lines. So what might've been an amp back in the day might now be a guitar - so when someone Googles 'Fender *insert appropriate title here*" looking for a second hand classic amp, they see that Fender has the new "*insert appropriate title here*" guitar available. Which may draw them down to the local shop to try it, and maybe purchase...
    Whatever the logic and tactics, Fender have clearly done this rather well. And arguably better than Gibson.

    Gibson's only real bulwark against such tactics is that most people seem to be very specific in the year models they consider to be 'acceptable'. "Oh, I wouldn't buy that era, they were rubbish then." What about this year? "That had the wrong chambering." This year? "Wrong neck wood." It's almost at the point that the only way you'd ever buy any old Gibson is by picking it up, and if Gibson produced consistent product new - if they were well reputed for producing consistent quality new - they'd make it really easy to decide a new Gibbo was the right option. As opposed to vintage.
    How they make it right to buy a Gibson USA product over an Epi or Heritage, or something that looks similar from another manufacturer, well...
     
    knavel and Ricochet like this.
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.


  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice