Ethics of Copying Guitar Designs [Esp. Small Shops]

Discussion in 'Sevenstring Guitars' started by narad, Apr 22, 2019.

  1. narad

    narad SS.org Regular

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    Well, rather than let on-going talk of ethics spill out into random other threads in the forum, maybe we can try to keep it in here and avoid the personal attacks of guys mad that it's not on-topic discussion.

    The previous discussion is mostly here:
    http://sevenstring.org/threads/ran-...close-update-trouble-relocating.334501/page-5
    I don't know what the right prompt is, but assume Ken Lawrence, a small builder, output of about 20 explorers every couple of years, creates this:

    [​IMG]

    Some notable features: slightly smaller explorer shape, rounded bevels, particular control layout, raw woods (chechen/bubinga usually)/satin finish, and of course, the headstock.

    Then we have the Ran explorer:

    [​IMG]

    Totally copied the arbitrarily unique KL headstock shape, same logo placement, bubinga wood. Can you really look at this guitar and honestly believe the person didn't want a KL explorer but just didn't have the means to get one? Which raises the question of entitlement, whether Ran is being unethical in ripping off another builder's headstock, and whether it's ethical to buy a copy of another small builder's guitar.

    This is basically how I feel. If you think it's okay for someone to make a replica of another builder for you, do you also not pay for your music? Games? Movies? That logic just leads to things that most people would agree are unethical and bad for all the communities of creators IMO.

    I think I leave it up to anyone else if they want to take it from there, but either way here is a place to keep such discussion. Let's keep it civil though -- i.e., not attacking a person or nationality.
     
  2. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    What if the builder is no longer get building. Or says they are building but really aren’t. What if they are black water.
     
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  3. bouVIP

    bouVIP SS.org Regular

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    I find the comparison between guitars and then entertainment to be too different. The price points are completely different and there isn't really an alternative. If you can't afford a $60 game, there isn't going to be someone who will make you a similar game for $30.

    On the other hand I don't have the immediate cash to spend $2000 on a strandberg, but recently found out about the China made NK guitars for under $400 and hopped on that. I do feel kind of bad about buying a copy instrument, but the Indonesian made strandberg wasn't ever going to be something I bought in that price range.

    I do feel it's unethical for small builders to copy small builders especially if the price range is closer (and in the thousands of dollars range), but the comparison is too different from things more mass produced in my opinion.

    edit: I know the comparison to games and movies was pirating/stealing it, but I mean I don't consider that the same as stealing a design ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
     
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  4. Fred the Shred

    Fred the Shred Shrederick

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    Personally, this is a "case by case" topic for me. While I don't really care about a custom spin on whatever mass produced axe made by someone else (which has the added motive of mass produced instruments not really having a ton of possible options for the customer to spec), I do look at these copies of small builders with a typically negative perspective.

    Ken Lawrence copies are basically saying "yeah, it's your concept and your work, but I want it cheaper", as are most Blackmachine ones, although the sheer scarcity and less than ideal "blind auction" vibe seriously contributes to that when it comes to BM. Then you have stuff like the Ormsby and Skervesen takes on the BM hype, namely changing the whole ordeal enough so that it's obvious what is on the table without giving you a 1:1 copy attempt, and I'm mostly fine with that.

    In light of the latter point: other than the 1:1 copies, how close is "too close" when going for these boutique builders' vibe is another interesting debate on its own, now that I think of it.
     
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  5. narad

    narad SS.org Regular

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    Reminds me of this anecdote (often misattributed to Winston Churchill):

    A famous man at a charity banquet asks the beautiful young woman next to him, "Assuming that we gave the money to charity, would you sleep with me for ten thousand dollars?" After some thought she says, "Yes." "And would you for two dollars?" "Why, what do you think I am!" "We've already decided that. Now we're just haggling about price."

    I mean, if your ethics would say it's wrong to deprive the original builder of that money when they are the same price, wouldn't that also hold if the copy is half price, or 10% of the original? It simply becomes an issue of degree. That makes it difficult to afford the original, but I feel that is a sound argument.

    I'm not saying anyone is a bad person for getting a copy. I think it's wrong to eat meat in most situations, but the thought of giving it up has never really crossed my mind seriously. But I have a hard time thinking that people can believe that it is "right", to get another builder to build you a cheaper version of something you can't afford at the moment, or that they are some how justified or entitled in doing so.
     
  6. Defyantly

    Defyantly Maybe

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    This is just my :2c:, but I feel that guitar designs are a very grey area. I mean when you think of "standard" shapes almost every main stream company has a version. Some with little quirks to make it aforementioned companies version but they are all pretty much the same. The best example of this is the strat shape. You have them a dime a dozen from the very bottom price point all the way up to custom and boutique. I feel that standard shapes should be shared by all because different companies have different build techniques and you have people who prefer different companies but want "standard" shapes.

    Now where thing get really hairy is when you have companies that blatantly copy other builder's work with no change at all. This is why lawsuits happen. Its not cool for a boutique builder to come up with a custom design only to see it on aliexpress or ebay for a third of the cost with their logo on it. I am absolutely for builders pursuing legal action against these types of offenders. That is probably why there are not a lot of boutique guitar templates out there for people to find.
     
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  7. sezna

    sezna undermotivated

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    As an aside on the Strandberg copies, the shape is so great, I think they are ushering in a new "standard" ergo shape. The Shoggie, the Abasi's leg cut shape, and other guitars all seem to take at least some inspiration for it. I find it akin to the Strat bringing in a new guitar shape option - a lot of manufacturers, if they didn't copy it, at least made similar shapes. This is one example where I find that the copying is a direct result of how great the shape is, and the copying is allowing for the industry to evolve. The question of the 1:1 Chinese copies is a bit different, but the general Strandbery ergo stuff...
     
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  8. BananaDemocracy

    BananaDemocracy 8 String Impaler

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    A quick 2 cents, when it comes to design or more generally art, there is no proprietary ownership of shapes ....

    However, it’s not a question of ethics , more of professional courtesy, and self-worth/pride/estimation

    Meaning if you have to copy another artist, that says more about your creative ability (and ethics , in that sense, if you will) than the counterfeit...

    If your asking if it’s unethical to support said artist, answer is - not for the right price ;) :D
     
  9. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire Drink Sunny D, pet kitties.

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    if they're not building the guitars any more I say they're fair game. Same thing with discontinued shapes from bigger brands *cough* kelly star/ironbird/stealth *cough*
    It's not like you're taking business from an active builder. Granted if you're going to be selling other people's designs, then at least make some tweaks to distinguish it/prevent getting sued into the ground.
     
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  10. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    There are two clear, defensible positions you might take:

    1. A luthier/brand can only build designs designed by that luthier/brand.

    2. Any builder can build whatever.

    1 seems like the most ethically straightforward but also seems to have been abandoned by the industry for almost as long as there has been an industry, so it looks like 2 is the one we're operating under.

    If anyone can convince me there is an option between 1. and 2. that doesn't read like "well as a Telecaster is so old that's fair game, but the Ken Lawrence explorer isn't even though that's in fact also a copy of an Explorer but it's a bit different, but the Chinese Strandberg knockoffs are definitely not acceptable though the best ever Jackson Soloist is in fact an Original Series ESP"

    (I guess trademark law is trademark law so both my 1. and 2. don't allow for "builder X makes a copy of builder Y's design and it has builder Y's name on it". If trademark law extends to cover headstock shapes then it ought to cover everyone's headstock shapes but it seems in practise only the very largest brands get this treatment. But now I've muddied my own waters by talking about legal matters when I meant to stick purely to ethical matters, leaving room for someone to drive in a wedge and dismantle my entire point. I should delete this entire section.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  11. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    There's nothing new, nothing that gets lost, everything is copied... in the end, we're all star dust... as are guitars.

    I'm with @BananaDemocracy. Anyone with a computer can trace a guitar's shape. It is then up to the client/builder' personal conscience to follow it or tweak it.

    I mean, look at the gigantic number of rigorous tele/strat/LPs copies that are out there. No one seams to care much about that, blank headstocks (unbranded) so the user can stick there anything they want. Aren't there stickers with brand's logos to stick it onto whatever one may want? What is anyone expecting?

    Copying is part of the human growth, how many builders have made their name with copies from other brands to later on establish their own style?

    If I was into doing this for a living, I'd change something because that's my nature...
     
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  12. Wolfhorsky

    Wolfhorsky Regular idiot

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    MOD EDIT: Personal attacks will always bring swift and stringent moderation. If unable to stick to basic forum guidelines further moderation steps will be taken. Final warning.

    @narad, please don’t feel offended. I see that You take this topic very personal.
    Regarding KL: for me that headstock is the ugliest part of that guitar. KL just made some mods to the well known design in the first place. It isn’t His own design by any means. Let’s try to be objective here. So KL made modified Explorer and we can’t name this action as tipoff, because it is with His own twist. It is the homage to the Gibson’s design. Then the Ran customers came along and asked Ran to make a copy but with their own mods. Ran makes it and You call it ripoff. I would call it a copy. Inferior, more cheesy and less expensive copy. Is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical? Not by my understanding.
    But i try to understand both sides and they all have their own reasons. IMHO Ran should concact KL before making these copies.
    Regarding industry and ethics.
    There are 4 constructions of electric guitar:
    - bolt-on: Tele and Strats. All others are mods, copies, ripoffs and so on... for example Strandberg, BlackMachine, Ibanez...
    - set-in: Gibson designs (Les Paul, SG, Explorer, Flying V etc) and 90% of others are based on Gibson recipies
    - neck-through-body: mostly Jackson designs...but wait..Soloist~Strat, RR&KV~Flying V, Kelly~Explorer... Do You get it?
    - monolith, for example Parker, Aristides etc.
    So my point is that almost all industry is based upon copies, homages, mods and ripoffs.
    Why is it good to copy a Strat and it is wrong to copy a KL?
    Do You feel entitled to judge?
    We can give only our opinions, not facts. We can share our point of view and feelings, but please do not moralise each other.
    Peace.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2019
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  13. Bearitone

    Bearitone SS.org Regular

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    I think if someone feels the need to rip off someone’s headstock design they shouldn’t be making guitars.

    If someone that wants to call themselves a luthier is so abhorrently uncreative that they can’t design a headstock then they need to pay someone to be creative for them (like pay a designer or get a license to sell someone else’s design)

    It’s uncreative, unimaginative, crooks looking to make a quick buck by standing on the shoulders of a design/brand that honest people busted their asses to build up
     
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  14. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire Drink Sunny D, pet kitties.

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    I'll play devil's advocate here and say that I understand copying certain headstock designs (ie the tele headstock/kramer hockey stick, jackson headstock, etc) simply because they recreate a certain aesthetic. It'd be really hard to build a kramer esque super strat in neon colors/etc or an explorer without that iconic hockey headstock shape (or some minor variation on it). Not that it can't be done but it's really hard coming up with a functional headstock designs that haven't already been done. There's a finite number of ways to make a inline or 3x3 headstock shape that don't look like shit. I've been racking my brain trying to come up with functional, yet original headstock designs for years.
     
  15. Bearitone

    Bearitone SS.org Regular

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    But here’s the good news, if you free-hand draw it or even use CAD without directly tracing over an existing design, it’s now no longer a shameless copy. You could probably draw 12 hooked/ormsby “style” headstocks each with their own twist.

    It’s literally impossible for you to freehand the exact same shape as someone else

    This is basically what companies do with their singlecut “LP” style guitars. There are tons of these guitars that are within the same shape “family” without being an exact copy.

    I’m fine with iterating on a shape or making your own version.

    It’s the shameless, direct tracing of another design that’s just low imo and what i see a lot of when it comes to Chinese knock offs.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
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  16. bouVIP

    bouVIP SS.org Regular

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    Is it justified or ethical? Definitely not, but I'm more on the side of it's an ok gray area unless they literally copy a brand and logo and sell it as the brand for a cheaper price.

    People aren't entitled to it at all, and it's pretty messed up that society has warped people in to that kind of mindset. But it is what it is and if people want something, they'll try to get it or a substitute that's technically legal or a blatant illegal ripoff.

    To me, it seems like less of a "I want to steal that design" and more of a "I have 2 options and 1 is cheaper and takes less time, but both give me nearly the same thing" from the consumer perspective.

    Definitely agree with @Fred the Shred though and think it's more case by case than anything but that is based on differing opinions and perspective for the individual.
     
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  17. Wolfhorsky

    Wolfhorsky Regular idiot

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    KL's headstock internal part is Ran ripoff to be precise :lol:
    Mayones Duvell headstock is a copy of Skervesen 4AP headstock.
    We can go endlessly into that rabbit hole, mate.
     
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  18. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire Drink Sunny D, pet kitties.

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    :yesway: "good artists steal, great artists imitate and make it their own"
    Yeah, I'm not really talking about blatantly copying a design, just saying from my perspective that it's hard to make a functional headstock that doesn't end up emulating another design in some way.
    I inadvertently (or subconsciously, take your pick) ended up drawing inline headstocks that look like the RG/VIK/BWGC/Agile inline headstocks, even though I was trying to do my own thing. :shrug:
     
  19. Jonathan20022

    Jonathan20022 Engineer

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    If you're ethically drawing a line on "copying" then you're going to personally have to apply it across the board. The term copying is extremely broad already, it ranges from direct production of an identical copy to imitation to even partial copies.

    If we're going with copying being an unethical action, then we shouldn't be buying anything but Telecasters from Fender and LP's from Gibson, etc. But there seems to be a lot of conditions for it to even bother people, like the size of the luthier, availability of the product, and overall intentions.

    Like Knight said, unless you're making an objective effort to come up with something forcefully unique your memory and influences will come out when you come up with ideas no matter the industry or medium. You'd almost say forcing a unique design is a more unnatural creative outlet for an artist/luthier.

    It personally doesn't bother me, a couple years ago I was one of those dudes pining over a Blackmachine. I ended up owning a pair of B6's that were completely boring, because those instruments didn't excite me I went with the closest option that resembled one to me in my price range. Which made my Blackwater DII Walnut come into the picture and it satisfied that desire for that specific design quite a bit. I know @narad takes issue with brands like Ormsby for their take on the blackmachine, but if we're going over semantics here but the Hypemachine is arguably the looser derivative of the Blackmachine style if we're doing a deep dive here.

    Skervesen made three documented copies that copy the headstock and general shape on purpose.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    If the argument is copying is unethical, then we are drawing lines on how far is too far you simply cannot be consistent without alienating other cases and designs. I actually think the popularity and size of a luthier being weighed is a cop out in and of itself, Intellectual Property doesn't scale between the holder's stake in the market. If you have a case that you can sue and collect on for stolen IP you have every right to pursue that.

    Without even putting much thought into the topic, copies do not bother me much because I felt no guilt for owning what were considered close copies to the Blackmachine design. I could afford one no problem, but I saw no value in going into a bidding war for an instrument that cost what two of my Blackwaters ran me at the time. But at the same time I do feel a slight sense of resentment towards RAN almost completely copying the KL design, but certainly not enough to keep me from owning/ordering one. I'd make the case that they are doing exactly what Skervesen did, intentionally make close copies of a design for a market with no chance of affording the real deal.
     
  20. mpexus

    mpexus SS.org Regular

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    [​IMG]
     

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