11th Circuit Throws Out Copyright Case From Pantera Guitar Designer

Despite losing in court, Buddy Webster is happy to be recognized by the 11th Circuit as the creator of the “Dean From Hell.”

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

ATLANTA (CN) — The 11th Circuit on Thursday put an end to a copyright dispute between the designer of late Pantera frontman Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott’s iconic guitar and the manufacturer he claims stole his design, finding the designer waited too long to sue.

The Atlanta-based appeals court’s ruling rejecting guitar designer Buddy “Buddy Blaze” Webster’s challenge to a federal judge’s dismissal of his copyright lawsuit against Dean Guitars and its parent company comes after a three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the case in January.

Webster claimed that Dean Guitars violated his copyright to a custom design created for Abbott’s Dean ML guitar in 1985.

Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott’s iconic “Dean From Hell” guitar.

The guitar, nicknamed the “Dean From Hell,” features a lightning storm graphic on a blue background. The instrument was used by Abbott in live performances until he was shot and killed by a fan while onstage at a concert in Columbus, Ohio, in December 2004.

Abbott signed a royalty endorsement contract with Dean Guitars shortly before his death. The company has sold reissues of the “Dean From Hell” ever since and has not paid Webster royalties for the use of the design.

A federal judge in Tampa dismissed the lawsuit, finding that Webster’s claims were barred by the three-year statute of limitations.

In an 18-page opinion, the 11th Circuit on Thursday agreed with the federal court that Webster’s claim for copyright ownership accrued as early as December 2004 or as late as April 2007, when he knew that his ownership rights over the lightning storm graphic were being violated by Dean Guitars’ reissue sales.

The unanimous panel ruled that the period in which Webster could have sued expired “years before” he filed his federal lawsuit in 2017.

The judges found that Webster’s claims for unfair competition, false endorsement and false advertising also fail.

Those claims stemmed from Webster’s appearance in Dean Guitars’ promotional materials and video interviews which he alleged caused guitar enthusiasts to believe he endorsed the reissued guitars.

“Webster presented little or no evidence that Dean intended to misappropriate his goodwill in the sale of the DFH reissues,” U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote for the panel. “Rather, he presented video interviews that show him, several years after he became aware of the DFH reissues, willingly discussing the history of the DFH to promote his legacy and sell his own guitars.”

In an interview with Courthouse News on Thursday afternoon, Webster’s attorney Eric Bjorgum of Karish & Bjorgum said his client is unsure whether to continue the fight but is happy to be recognized by the 11th Circuit as the creator of the “Dean From Hell.”

“We really wanted to set the record straight… No one else in this whole case has stepped up to claim the copyright and all the interested parties were involved,” Bjorgum said.

Webster said Thursday that he was worried Pantera fans would think he was profiting from Dean Guitars’ unauthorized reproductions.

“Darrell was one of the best friends I ever had. The case is not a reflection at all of my feelings for him,” Webster said, explaining that he has received death threats from fans who were angered by the lawsuit.

“This was about protecting [Buddy’s] friendship and protecting the legacy of the guitar,” Bjorgum said.

Wilson was joined on the panel by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Julie Carnes, a Barack Obama appointee, and U.S. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch, appointed by President Donald Trump.

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