Any problem if I copy a bass body shape?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Mr M, Aug 16, 2001.

  1. Will I have any problem if I have a custom bass with a body shape 100% similar of a known bass? I mean a cheaper copy of a known brand?

    Will there be any difference if I have a luthier (a person who have commercial income by building such a bass) built it or I personally build it (without any commercial income for my own use)?

    I wish it's the right place to ask this question (in fact moderators will kick it to the right place, they are invented for this :D)
  2. Komakino

    Komakino Guest

    Feb 23, 2001
    Somerset, England
    I wouldn't think that would be a problem, there are lots of imitation p-basses out there (my encore, vintage etc) all with the fender shape, so copying it should be ok. I don't think you can copyright a shape anyway.
  3. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Seattle, WA

    just kidding. :D:p:)
  4. JJR

    JJR Guest

    Jan 7, 2001
    I doubt you would find any trouble as you're not trying to profit from the venture nor tarnish the trademark holders name (as long as you're not planning to copy the logo also). The luthier is providing a service to you, not selling you his product. Besides, you're too small a fish for a serious company to worry about (or even hear about). It would be fraud, however, if you tried to sell it later as the "real thing."

    But really, after collecting and assembling all the proper parts and paying a luthier to custom build you a body... are you really saving enough money to make it worth it?

    I've built a few Jazz basses out of high-end aftermarket parts and when it was all said and done, it would've been cheaper just to buy a vintage Fender. :eek:
  5. Turock


    Apr 30, 2000
    Copying headstocks is where you get in trouble.
  6. Some luthiers will have a problem if you ask for a dead knockoff and they'll tell you from the get-go.

    For some, it's pride. Some are lawsuit sensitive ever since this really became a hot tamale when the Orient got too cute with the knockoffs.

    Just don't ask for a logo replica.
  7. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Want are series - buy a series.
    Want your own - make your own.

    Series is serious.

    Make no fake.

    (just a few applicable "proverbs". get my drift?)
  8. Sammy Camden

    Sammy Camden Guest

    Dec 12, 1999
    Chicago NW 'burbs.
    Many luthiers will balk at the idea of a dead-on knock-off copy. They are in the business of building, repairing, etc., instruments and are subject to lawsuits.

    However, if you were to build it yourself, for your own personal use, and not try to sell or pass it as a real one, there is nothing anyone can do. Selling it later as the real thing is fraud and you are then subject to the various laws the cover these things. Selling it as a home built is not illegal.

    But as was pointed out, you rarely, if ever, can come out ahead doing something like this. It is usually cheaper to buy the real thing in the first place. Of course, if you're just looking for the satisfaction of doing it, and money and authenticity is not an issue, then go for it.

    Good luck!
  9. Thanks a lot all but my confusion became bigger :) OK, to make it more precise let's assume that I won't copy the logo, nor sell it as it's the real thing. I want one because as I said before, to have it cheaper. It would cost something between $1000-$1500 including everything I guess. And as I tried to say before it won't be a "series" one but with the same body shape w/ maybe different wood, finish, hardware, pickup, neck, headstock, even different fretboard markers...

    @Turock: What's the difference with headstock shape copying?

    Let's assume that the little fish becomes somehow bigger :cool: and attract the attention of the manufacturer, what can happen for ONE body-replica?

    I think that P and J bass patent expired that's why there are hundreds of replicas but is it legal to have ONE bass with a body shape copied from a patented bass?

    Any lawyer here?:D

    And how little is big enough? I mean if it is not legal how little difference in body shape can let someone out of trouble?
  10. Sammy Camden

    Sammy Camden Guest

    Dec 12, 1999
    Chicago NW 'burbs.
    Let's put it like this. If you were to build an exact copy of a Corvette, RollsRoyce, Fender, Lakland, or whatever, in your little workshop, for your own personal use, no one can do a damn thing about it. The only rub comes when and if you sell it. Depending upon what you called it, you might get into trouble. If you sold your exact copy of a whatever, and you called it a homebuilt Mr M, and sold it as a used homebuilt Mr M, you would not run into any problems. If you were to 1. try and pass it off as the real thing, BINGO, lawsuit; 2. mention the real thing in reference to your one-off Mr M, BINBO, potential and probable lawsuit, depending upon the real companies mood, etc.

    As to your question on headstocks, most are copyrighted. Fender for one is. I think most of the other companies are too. The body shapes don't seem to be as there are copies galore with no problems encountered.

    The copyright, patent laws, etc., are there to protect manufacturers, writers, etc., from someone taking an unfair advantage of their work, etc., and making money off of it to the detriment of the originator. When a person makes a one-off for themselves, that falls outside of the laws. That is what I learned from my few law classes when I was working on my MBA, and my lawyer father-in-law also told me the same thing.

    They can yell and make noise all they want, but you can't get into trouble for it if you just make it for yourself and use it yourself.
  11. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    I know a luthier that makes Friole Tamalecasters. :D:D:D
  12. Turock


    Apr 30, 2000
    I don't really know what the difference is, but I do know this:
    At one time, during the seventies, Ibanez (and several other Asian companies) copied the Les Paul (and just about everything else). The problem was that Ibanez's copy of the Les Paul was a little too exact, in terms of cosmetics, right down to the headstock.
    Gibson tried to sue all the Les Paul cloners, but apparently found that their only basis would be to sue for the shape of the headstock; therefore, Ibanez had to change the headstocks. Apparently you can still make a Les Paul copy, but you can't use the headstock shape, which evidently is the only trademark-able part of a guitar. Everything else, I assume, is fair game.
  13. jmrtnko

    jmrtnko Guest

    Jul 9, 2001
    well, you can only copyright "non-utilitarian" items. the headstock shape was decided to be the only thing on a guitar that wasn't created to fulfill any particular purpose (as opposed to balancing weight, upper fret access, sculpting for comfort, etc. on the body). there *is* a design trademark (which is extremely difficult to get), and "trade dress" (which expensive to argue).

    there's really not too much to prevent you from making a copy of a body as long as you don't claim it to be the real thing. but if you try to resell something later, you can have problems. rickenbacker quickly jumps on any copy on ebay and gets it delisted, even if the seller says it's not a real rick. some other manufacturers do the same.

    builders work pretty hard on their body shapes, and lots of time the shape identifies the maker. if people start copying it, then shape they worked so hard on becomes generic and turns into another j or p clone situation. that's called trademark dilution (hard to argue, but easy to threaten). so when people want a bass of a particular shape, they no longer go to the luthier that originally made it anymore. and guess who goes out of business (most luthiers don't have enough money for expensive court battles).

    so, ultimately the best thing is really to support the person who designed the shape. if it's too expensive, save up. it'll be worth it, and the maker will really appreciate it. if it's a feature or materials issue, most builders are usually willing to listen to your ideas. making you happy makes them happy.

    or, since you're going custom, here's your big opportunity to be a bass designer yourself. make up a shape that's *you* and only *you*. there's nobody better qualified.

  14. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago

    Really? Rick has a person on staff who has nothing better to do than cruis ebay and take body-shape copies off? Why would ebay put up with/support THAT? Is ebay liable in any way for people selling copies that are advertised as copies??
  15. Bass Guitar

    Bass Guitar Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2001
    One thing of interest - I remember reading somewhere that Ned Steinberger had licensed the headless bass concept, and strictly speaking, other bass makers needed to obtain permission to make headless basses (for example Status did this). However, in real life, a lot of bass makers have copied the headless design anyway.

    I suspect that if you are making a one-off bass, copying bits from different basses would not be an issue. It's only if you are mass-producing basses...
  16. speaking of Ned Steinberger, didn't Warwick have to license the Spector NS body shape (that he designed) to use on the Warwick Streamer?
  17. agyeman

    agyeman Member

    Mar 6, 2001
    There have been some people on Ebay passing of copys as the real thing, Rickenbacker are just protecting their brand reputation, and helping out people who could be fooled into thinking it was a real rick.

    Ebay aren't liable, but they should care about what is listed, or else it's own reputation will go downhill.
  18. jmrtnko

    jmrtnko Guest

    Jul 9, 2001
    I think they have every right to get fakes de-listed, but they are also attacking copies that *aren't* being claimed as the originals. lots of asian companies copied the ricky shape in the seventies (aria, univox, ideal, ibanez) and some of these have been showing up on ebay lately. the seller will put in big type "NOT A REAL RICKENBACKER" but usually within a few days, it's gone anyway.

    ebay is super gun-shy about *any* possibility of opening itself up to a lawsuit and will generally cave in to complaints.

    so if the original poster decides to sell on ebay later, be prepared. and it's not an employee necessarily. a lot of times it's a fellow ebayer that complains.

    btw, in my previous post, design trademark should be design patent. very very hard and expensive to get.

  19. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member