Returned BB King guitar results in copyright claim

April 2015


Literary works, advertising


When Eric Dahl purchased a Gibson guitar at a Las Vegas pawnshop in 2009, little did he think it would lead to a copyright battle with Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. and two other companies. Having paid nearly $2,200 for the B.B. King Lucille model, Dahl then discovered it was the original “Prototype 1” model that  the guitar company had presented to the blues legend on his 80th birthday in 2005. King had performed with the guitar until the summer of 2009, when it was stolen from his home. The Las Vegas Review-Journal tells us that In November 2009, Dahl went to King’s office in Las Vegas to return the guitar. To show his appreciation, King autographed another Gibson Lucille and gave it to Dahl during the meeting. All great so far!
Dahl then wrote about his experiences in three chapters of his 2013 book “B.B. King’s Lucille and the Loves Before Her.”  and it’s that story is now at the centre of a copyright infringement case filed by Dahl, alleging that  car manufacturer Toyota created a television advertisement that “presented an adapted visual interpretation of the story”. The defendants, along with co-defendants advertising agency Saachi & Saachi and video production company Smuggler Inc.,  have countered that Dahl’s book “is not substantially similar” to their 30-second advert for the 2015 Toyota Camry, which features a young woman who purchases a storage locker and finds a guitar labelled “Lucille” inside. The woman tracks down the previous owner, B.B. King, who autographs it and gives it back to her: “The concept of a musician who loses a musical instrument which is later found and returned is not unique to plaintiff nor can he claim copyright protection over all such stories”  and “Nor does the fact that the musician in both stories is Mr. King change that result.”
Rejecting a motion to dismiss by the defence, U.S. District Judge James Mahan has now allowed the case to go to trial, concluding that Dahl’s complaint “adequately alleges similarities between the plot, characters, and sequence of events, among other factors, of the two works.”

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