Paint on Eddie Van Halen's guitar copyrighted?


First post. Noob. Hope this isn’t too stupid a question.

About 10 years ago I made a very detailed vector drawing of EVH’s guitar. I didn’t trace. I didn’t use any graphics/samples/bitmaps/textures of anything. I just reproduced it reasonably accurately in vectors using ai. And it is clearly an illustration.

Now I want to use it in a commercial project. It’s a very recognizable design, of course.

Is it legal? Can I use it on a poster and be legal? I can fudge it up of course, but I like the accuracy of it.

Thanks of reading.


The clue is in the name ‘copy’right. It doesn’t matter how you copy it, if it is evidently a copy, it is protected.

Do you mean the Frankenstrat? I would not be sure if the work reaches sufficient threshold of originality to be protected by copyright.
Some photos are claimed to be free for commercial use.

Yes, the frankenstrat. And that’s why I was asking, because there a million pictures of it out there. I’m not making guitars in the paint scheme and selling them and I’m not selling a copy of a specific picture of the guitar. But I am using a drawing that is specifically and clearly an accurate depiction of THAT guitar.

@Joe I think that link answers the question.


Not a lawyer, but given its iconic status, it seems like they would have trademarked that design.

I think the first question is whether his estate would take issue, to the point of sending lawyers after you. Even if your work ends up being technically legal, are you willing to prove it in court.

You might want to read this article from 2008 that describes a situation similar to yours and Van Halen’s claim of copyright infringement.

Since you described what you’ve done as “a very detailed vector drawing of EVH’s guitar”, I’ve got to assume the copyright owner (whoever that might be at this point) would have good cause to send you a cease and desist letter and file a copyright infringement claim wherever you’re selling the artwork.

You might also want to read the following from Rolling Stone magazine. In 2009, Eddie Van Halen sued Nike for a trademark violation when Nike used a similar striped look on some of their shoes. I don’t know how the lawsuit turned out, but I’ve always found it best to avoid being sued.

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Hope the OP doesn’t follow Joe’s advice cuz that is NOT the correct answer.

Just go to the source:
The Frankenstrat is registered with the Copyright office.
It is NOT useable for commercial purposes.
In case you miss it:

The copyright in the Frankenstein Design has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The VH logos have been registered as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Unauthorized use of the Artwork and/or VH logos is an infringement of these intellectual properties, subjecting unauthorized users to potential liability, fines and penalties.

I gotta tell you that answer was found by asking Goog “is the frankenstrat copyrighted.”
Sometimes it’s that simple.

This is not an answer to a question. This is just some doubts and what other people think.

I did not advice anybody to do anything.

I wanted to add If in doubt ask the creator. But that is not necessary anymore.

How does one move the solution tag to another reply?

This is a good point that, for some reason, tends to get lost in the copyright and trademark questions asked here.

For example, someone might ask, “I’ve drawn a picture of a goose that my friend said looks a little like Donald Duck. I don’t think a goose could be confused with Donald Duck. I want to print t-shirts and sell them on Etsy. Do you think I’ll be safe doing that?”

People answer with variations of, “Yeah, if it’s a goose and doesn’t look too much like Donald Duck, you’re probably OK.”

Well, maybe yes and maybe no, but whatever the courts might rule, does anyone really want to spend three years and a few hundred thousand dollars fighting a sue-happy horde of Disney attorneys over a stupid Etsy t-shirt?

I removed it :wink:

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Wanna bet that OP took the answer he wanted to hear and ran with it when giving Joe the check mark. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think the work reaches your originality threshold. It was copyrighted and says so right on the label. I’m not sure where than can be any doubt if the Van Halen site says “Don’t do it.”

As for the photos, while they might say they are free for commercial use, at best you might be able to use them to editorialize. Not produce items for sale.

You are all right. I did take the answer I wanted to hear. It sounded too good to be true.

I wonder how much I would have to obfuscate it to be legal because it seems that if you showed a picture of any abstract red, white and black striped guitar to someone and said “whose guitar is this?” you are going to get the answer “Eddie Van Halen”. Also the project is a parody artwork and therefore fair use comes into play somewhere.

Maybe so, but again, even if you’re right, do you want to engage in a possible legal battle with Eddie Van Halen’s estate? The estates of dead musicians are often more litigious than the musicians since all they own are the legacies and royalties but not the talent to create anything new of the same caliber.

Realistically the answer is no, but for the sake of argument, it would depend on how much the project or product is worth. Not saying this one has that kind of value.

If you submitted a design for copyright and it got accepted, if sued and you defend yourself and win, supposedly you have grounds to recover the costs and fees. But again, that’s not how things happen in the wild.

If you can copyright a combination of colors in abstract then Jackson Pollock’s estate should be suing a lot of people.

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Yeah, if I were Elon Musk or Warren Buffett defending against iffy copyright lawsuits, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the hassle and expense. I’d just let the lawyers handle it and have my accountant write them a check in case they lost—just business as usual.

For me, though, better safe than sorry.

A slight change of subject…

Andy Warhol’s estate recently lost a copyright lawsuit from a photographer whose portrait of Prince was used by Warhol to create a series of serigraphs. The suit had bounced its way around the courts for several years before making it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I don’t know how much that artwork is worth, but I guess several million dollars at stake made it worth the effort and expense for the photographer.


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