Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

Home Top Ad

About On my website, I focus on obscure instrument builders, unique facts, and clearing up rumors using historical data and research. There ...

Threats of Legal Action from


On my website, I focus on obscure instrument builders, unique facts, and clearing up rumors using historical data and research. There are no ads on this website, no affiliate links, and the only money that is exchanged is the $12 a year I pay for the domain name. 

I have a number of sources that I regularly go to from to online archives of the Music Trade Review to to public domain items on Google Books. Every time I use an image or reference a fact, I cite sources in no particularly fancy format so that they can be easily followed to prove what I am saying. 

I do this for the love of the history and to help people with identifying instruments and eras of manufacture and have received hundreds of emails asking for additional help or thanking me for compiling this information.

However, on February 10th, 2024 I received an email from Steve Brown from the website
Nat. Take down the catalog scans you stole from or I will contact your internet service provider and they will take down your website until you remove the unauthorized content. 

I replied asking for clarification and he replied:

... You are not the first person to steal and post images from me, I know how to handle the situation. Do yourself a favor and do the right thing. You know you are wrong, admit that and take down my catalogs.

I apologized and began removing any images that originated from his website. He then replied including an email with Michael Wright who is a collaborator at Vintage Guitar Magazine and has written a book which has compiled most of the Kay guitar knowledge. 

Thanks Michael. I will give him once more chance to remove the unauthorized content. If he refuses, I will contact his hosting site (Google LLC) and file a claim for a Digitial Millennium Copyright Act violation. For me, here is the violation:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal for someone to remove your watermark. If you can prove that someone removed or altered the watermark used in your image in an unauthorized manner, you may be able to recover fines up to $25,000 plus attorneys fees for the infringement.

 For you, the violation is a copyright infringement. With your permission, I will include you on the complaint as a copyright violation

I respect the work of Michael Wright and own one of his books and to hear that he would consider legal action against me really brought me down. Mr. Brown was roping another person in and, it sounded like, trying to build a case that could wreck my life with legal fees. I certainly don't have $25,000 to pay for even one violation.

I wrote a cordial reply explaining I did not scan Michael Wright's book but screenshotted 3 lines from a PDF that is on the Kay Vintage Reissue guitar website showing a guitar model and the year it was manufactured. They have scans from Wright's book that are provided freely and with the wording 'courtesy of Michael Wright'. I had taken a snip of a small section of text and put that in my website with a citation to Wright's book and page.

I recognize now that I could've just used the text and that was a misstep on my part. I believed it had fallen under fair use but have since removed the offending image just to be sure.

The Kay Vintage Reissue web page also has multiple Kay catalogs that are scanned in full and are an excellent resource ,which I pointed out. Of course, Steve claims that they were stolen from him as well:
Yeah, vintage reissue stole the pages. The guy also stole from me claiming he bought the brand name and therefore he owned everything Kay. At the time, I didn't fight him on it, but all the images on his site are mine.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The DMCA protects copyrighted works from unauthorized digital reproduction with exceptions carved out for libraries, educational institutions, and what is called Fair Use. The purpose of this act is to protect those who create intellectual property against those who copy.

The folks at VintAxe firmly believe that the scans that they sell on their website are copyrighted since their watermark is on the page. From his email, it sounds like I am not the first person he has threatened and I can only image what money he might've been able to wring out of people who would rather it be over and done with. But as this website attests to, I love asking questions and diving down 'rabbit holes' of information until I get a better understanding of what I've heard.

The layman's understanding of copyright

There is a TON of information out there about copyright and most of it doesn't apply here, but its important to know how it works for this situation. Any written work published before 1929 (95 years since 2024) is public domain. Anything published before 1978 but after 1929 is protected for 95 years after publishing and anything after 1978 is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years [1].

What this means is that the oldest catalogs on are public domain and anything since would be under the copyright of the original owner unless authorized. Mr. Brown cannot hold copyright over public domain, he isn't Disney, and he certainly can't claim copyright over reproductions of another's work. Right?

According to the United States Copyright Office:
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, an adaptation of that work. The owner of a copyright is generally the author or someone who has obtained the exclusive rights from the author. In any case where a copyrighted work is used without the permission of the copyright owner, copyright protection will not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully. The unauthorized adaptation of a work may constitute copyright infringement [2].
Copyright does not extend to work that is used unlawfully so for this claim to have any merit, they would need to be authorized by the owners of each catalog in the collection. Obtaining permission to reproduce content is one thing but are the original authors even aware that VintAxe is selling access to copyrighted work and claiming it as their own? That seems unlikely...

The layman's understanding of fair use

There are four criteria used when reproducing copyrighted work to determine if it falls under Fair Use
  1. Whether the work is being reproduced for not-for-profit education use
    1. My website generates no income, I would even say I 'operate' at a loss
    2. VintAxe's business model revolves around reproducing copyrighted work and selling access to it. 
  2. Nature of the work, whether it is a book, song, published article, etc
  3. Amount of the copyrighted material used
    1. I incorporate snippets or smaller, more focused images of the catalog like an illustration or photo of a guitar or the text describing it.
    2. VintAxe reproduces the entire copyrighted material, page-by-page
  4. Effect on the market for that potential work
    1. My articles supplement the information in the catalogs and don't provide enough to fully replace them.
    2. If you pay VintAxe, you will no longer need to purchase anything in their repository

The layman's understanding of watermarks

Watermarks are text or images that are superimposed on a picture in such a way that they are difficult to remove or alter. It is useful to keep track of images. On this website, I focus on the contents of the images and not the watermarks so when I was reviewing my past work I did notice that some were partial or not visible. That is a failure on my part to keep them whole and as mentioned, I cited the image directly underneath with the website name and link to the page.

But Mr. Brown's claim that altering or obscuring the 'VintAxe' watermark is a violation of the DMCA depends on a key detail that was left out of our conversation.

The Law Office of Jason H Rosenblum, an intellectual property lawyer, writes:

Again, the watermark itself is not a copyright. Your work is already protected by copyright the moment it is created and the watermark can serve as a reminder to others not to steal your images because you are copyright protected.

Though you are granted copyright protection for your work the moment it’s created, you cannot sue for copyright infringement if you don’t take the extra step to register your work with the US Copyright Office. It is the only way that you will be able to bring your case to federal court and obtain a monetary reward for damages if your work is stolen or improperly used [3]. 

A watermark is not copyright, it is a reminder (like ©) that a work is protected under law. Removing the watermark of an authorized party on a copyright work is a violation. Now the question is whether Mr. Brown and actually own the copyright for the content they have threatened me over.

Can you claim copyright on a digital scan of someone else's work?


According to United States Copyright Office, "you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent." [2]. 

Unless VintAxe has obtained permission from each company featured on their website, they are not allowed to charge for access to copyrighted work and they certainly cannot enforce their own copyright on it. Mr. Brown & Co are allowed to Photoshop small dogs onto each page of, say, a 2017 Gibson catalog but they would not be eligible for copyright. They could supplement each catalog page with a paragraph of historical context behind a '61 Reissue and while the text could be eligible, the images would still not belong to VintAxe.

The DMCA does allow exceptions for teachers and educators to photocopy a copyrighted work for use in education and with its own set of rules. Fair Use allows exceptions for the general public as I have mentioned above. These exceptions are needed because unauthorized photocopying or scanning violation of copyright 

I were to drive to Barnes & Noble, purchase a copy of The Hobbit, come home and scan each page, apply a watermark of "Nathaniel A, photocopier extraordinaire", and put those scans up on my website I would be breaking the law and violating the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. If I attempted to exercise any legal rights over the scans I had watermarked, I would be laughed out of every lawyers' office in town. If I had charged money to view my scans of The Hobbit, I would have dug my own financial grave.


Mr. Brown and VintAxe are profiting off the compositions of individuals far more talented and far more deserving of the compensation he believes he is owed. At $50 a year or $10 a month for access and with over twenty years of their website, even 25 long-time subscribers would've brought $30,000 in revenue to VintAxe. I have no doubt that they have raked in tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

I have consulted with a few individuals more educated than myself and realize that removing the images is the easiest way to keep the peace. My ignorance of copyright law had me trusting that was allowed to sell access to decades of guitar catalogs and my ignorance is what allowed me to believe Mr. Brown's initial email. While ignorance isn't an excuse, I will no longer support that operation.

Whether VintAxe has obtained permission from each copyright holder to reproduce their work and sell access to it, I cannot say... I have spoken to a few individuals whose works are featured on the website and they were both surprised to hear of such a website and assured me that Mr. Brown does not represent their work. Either Mr. Brown is unfamiliar with the text of the DMCA, besides his quote, or details were omitted when he reached out to me.

To keep my past work crystal-clear, I recognize that images will be lost and many of my articles will be providing historical context and explanation to absolutely nothing... But I will continue to remove all the images and content originating from VintAxe and, as a gesture of good faith towards the companies whose copyright was violated, I will inform them of the violation, sincerely apologize for my part in it, and move on.

I do not believe I have violated the DMCA in how copyrighted content was used on my website but I do not have the resources to fight a legal battle to defend that. I have a day job and a side gig but no trove of copyrighted content to sell so I must comply with this request. I will continue to write on guitar history and put together resources to help people identify their instruments. I've received thousands of emails from vintage guitar collectors, families with inherited instruments, musicians, and the casual Marketplace scroller. Everything I do here is provided for free and I am thrilled when I see my work cited on Reverb listings, Youtube videos, and other articles about guitar history. 

All I ask for is a simple citation of where the information came from because it helps boost traffic to my website so more people can see what I've written. Again, I do not profit from this website and I do not threaten people who reference or quote my work.



No comments: