ATLANTA (CN) — An attorney for the designer behind the late Pantera guitarist Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott’s iconic instrument asked an 11th Circuit panel Friday to reinstate his lawsuit against a guitar manufacturer he claims stole his copyrighted design.
Buddy “Buddy Blaze” Webster sued Dean Guitars and its parent company in federal court, claiming the company violated his copyright to a custom design created for Abbott’s Dean ML guitar in 1985.
The guitar, nicknamed the “Dean From Hell,” features a lightning storm graphic on a blue background and was used by Abbott in live performances until he was shot and killed by a mentally ill fan while onstage at a concert in Columbus, Ohio, in December 2004.
Before his death, Abbott signed a royalty endorsement contract with Dean Guitars and the company has sold reissues of the “Dean From Hell” ever since.
The case was originally filed in California but was transferred to Florida. A federal judge in Tampa dismissed the case, finding that since Webster knew about the reissue sales as early as December 2004, his 2017 lawsuit is barred by the three-year statute of limitations.
Arguing on behalf of Webster, attorney Eric Bjorgum of Karish & Bjorgum told a three-judge 11th Circuit panel Friday morning that the designer is entitled to a trial in the case and asked the judges to reverse the lower court’s decision.
Bjorgum argued that Webster’s lawsuit is still timely because the statute of limitations on the copyright infringement claim accrues each time Dean Guitars copies the lightning storm graphic.
But Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Julie Carnes, a Barack Obama appointee, pointed out that since Webster never received royalties for the design from Dean Guitars or from Abbott’s estate, he “must have known there was a problem.”
Bjorgum told the panel that Webster avoided legal action because he was afraid of angering Abbott’s fanbase following the artist’s death.
Douglas Rettew of Finnegan Henderson, an attorney representing Dean Guitars, said that Webster’s chance to sue Dean Guitars or Abbott’s estate over the design passed by years ago.
“[Webster] can’t wait in the weeds and pounce on a copyright complaint years later,” Rettew said Friday.
The attorney continued, “Webster knew the guitars were being made in 2005. That’s when he could’ve sued but he waited over a decade… Webster wanted royalties for the graphic but never got paid. That also could have triggered the claim’s statute of limitations.”
In response to Bjorgum’s claim that Webster put off the lawsuit due to his fear of backlash from Abbott’s fans, Rettew said, “Pantera was a beloved band then. They are now. So why couldn’t he sue back then?”
Carnes was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judges Charles Wilson, a Bill Clinton appointee, and Elizabeth Branch, appointed by President Donald Trump.
The panel did not indicate when it would reach a decision in the case.