The estate of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott has won a copyright suit filed against it by an instrument designer who alleged that he hadn't been paid for sales of the late PANTERA guitarist's classic "Dean From Hell" guitar, which he said he helped create.
In April 2017, Buddy Webster, who goes by the name Buddy Blaze, filed a lawsuit against Armadillo Enterprises, the parent company of Dean Guitars, and Dimebag's estate, claiming that "Dean From Hell" was designed in the 1980s after Webster met and developed a friendship with Dimebag.
On Monday (December 3), a judgment was entered in favor of the defendants in the Middle District of Florida, where the suit was transferred in July 2017.
There is a three-year statute of limitations on copyright actions, and because Webster's dispute was about copyright ownership, the window in which he could file his lawsuit had long passed, the judge said.
Following the ruling, an attorney for the defendants said in a statement that they were happy with the outcome, and that it would allow them to "continue to commemorate Darrell's legacy through the 'Dean From Hell' guitar."
Meanwhile, a legal representative for Webster told Law360 that the designer was disappointed, but "happy that the record is set straight that he did not authorize the reissues and has made no money from them … Buddy brought the suit out of love and respect for his friend 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott — whom he recognized as a phenomenal talent at the age of fifteen — in protest to what he believed to be the continued exploitation of Darrell's legacy."
In his original lawsuit, Webster said that he was living in Arlington, Texas in the 1980s when he "befriended a young local guitarist named Darrell Abbott. Abbott was incredibly talented and was a member the band 'Pantera'," the lawsuit added. "One of Darrell Abbott's guitars is a model made by the Dean Guitar company, known as a Dean ML, which he won in a local contest.
"Abbott used the guitar but eventually decided to sell it… Webster secretly bought it back… then modified the neck the guitar, changed some the hardware and stripped the paint. Webster designed a new visual look for the guitar…featuring] a unique blue background with lightning emanating from the center the guitar body."
Webster claimed that he gave Darrell the classic guitar which soon "became his signature guitar.
"Abbott played the guitar from Webster wherever possible," the lawsuit added. "It became known as the 'Dean From Hell.'"
After Dimebag was tragically murdered in December 2004, Webster collaborated with Dean to produce a similar guitar to sell, marketed as the Buddy Blaze Signature Model. However, according to Webster, Dean Guitars eventually copied "engaged in multiple reissue campaigns of the 'Dean From Hell'" without giving Webster credit or any payment. After Webster failed to reach an agreement with Dean and the Abbott estate, he filed the suit.
In their June 2018 joint motion for summary judgment, Armadillo Enterprises and Dimebag's estate wrote: "The problem for Webster is that he didn't actually paint and create the graphic — a person named Craig Patchin did in around late 1985-early 1986. Even presuming, for purposes of this motion, that Webster did what he said he did relative to the Lightning Graphic (i.e., conceive the 'idea' and give Patchin some basic instructions regarding how he wanted the guitar painted), Webster's 'contributions' are nothing more than uncopyrightable ideas and concepts communicated to the real author of the work. Indeed, Webster admits, as he must, that he wasn't even 'physically there' for 'the artistic work.' Under controlling Eleventh Circuit precedent, the person responsible for fixing the 'artistic work' into a tangible medium of expression — Patchin — owns the copyright in it. Consequently, as a matter of law, Webster cannot establish that he is the sole or joint author of the Lightning Graphic, and his copyright is thus invalid. Patchin, who Webster admits is a 'trustworthy,' 'wonderful,' and 'utterly honorable' person, recently assigned his rights to the Lightning Graphic to the Estate, making the Estate the work's sole owner."