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Excuse Me While I Sue This Guy

Two years ago I went to a live auction of intellectual property at a swank former bank in lower Manhattan. It was the second such event organized by Ocean Tomo (the company is holding its eighth auction next week in its hometown, Chicago), and the lots ranged from the patent for a screwdriver with a retractable pencil tip to a video-on-demand patent, all offered up by a saucy British barker best known for his appearances on "Antiques Roadshow." But the night's big draw was the chance to buy the copyrights to the entire Jimi Hendrix music catalog -- they went to an anonymous phone bidder for $15 million.

There was plenty of controversy around the sale -- litigation over who really owns the rights to the music threatened to halt the auction up until the last minute -- but I met one man in the audience who had a unique take on the glitzy event. He was a representative of Seattle businessman Craig Dieffenbach, who claims to own the rights not to Jimi's music, but his image and likeness. Craig's man at the auction said he could care less about the music rights; nobody makes real money from selling music these days anyway. Instead Craig had used the Hendrix rights to create Hendrix Electric Vodka at the height of the premium vodka craze, selling purple bottles with Jimi's face on it for $33 a pop. He had plans to open Hendrix bars in Las Vegas and California. "People love Jimi's spirit," he told me -- no pun intended on his part.

Then, as now, a big part of the Hendrix Electric Vodka marketing revolved around proving its legitimacy in the eyes of the extended Hendrix family -- the vodka's Web site lists 18 Hendrix relatives who have shares in his company. But Craig failed to get permission from the one family member who mattered most, Janie Hendrix, Jimi's sister. This week she gained a permanent injunction against the use of Hendrix trademarks for the vodka. Janie also has a multimillion-dollar claim against Dieffenbach set for trial in February. Meanwhile, premium vodka makers these days are trying out a different kind of dead celebrity to promote their new bottles.

Posted by John Bringardner on October 24, 2008 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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