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Love Symbol Lawsuit: When A Fan Makes A Federal Case Out Of Hurt Feelings

Remember that time when a fan (not to be confused with Fam) sued Prince in federal court for having the audacity to have a guitar made in the shape of the symbol that represents his own name (Love Symbol No. 2)?

Yes, you read that right. That really happened. In 1994 Ferdinand Pickett, himself a guitar-maker, and one who called himself a fan sued Prince for fraud and consumer fraud. Mr. Pickett was inspired by Prince to create a symbol-shaped guitar, and claimed he showed what he made to Prince (in the hope that Prince would buy it from him). When he saw Prince was on tour playing a Symbol-shaped guitar, Mr. Pickett filed the original suit.[1]

Now, anyone can file a lawsuit. However, a party is required to meet certain criteria in order to succeed. Certain elements must be met in order to obtain relief. Courts were not set up for soothing hurt feelings. Parties are supposed to go to court when they are entitled (by meeting certain requirements) to obtain relief that a court has the authority to grant.

Generally (keeping jurisdictional variations in mind), in a fraud suit, a party must show 1) the defendant made a false statement of material fact to the plaintiff; 2) knowing that it was false; 3) with the intent that the plaintiff rely on it; 4) that the plaintiff acted in reliance on the statement; and 5) was damaged by reliance on the statement. In a consumer fraud case, a plaintiff must show 1) a deceptive act by defendant, 2) that the defendant intended for plaintiff to rely on the deception, 3) in the course of business, 4) resulting in damages to the plaintiff.

Though the parties ever meeting and the guitar being shown to Prince prior to the suit remained in dispute, it was never disputed that Prince did not ask Pickett to create the guitar, and there is no evidence to support the idea that he intended for the guitar-maker to act in any particular manner, and if there was any detrimental reliance by Mr. Pickett, just keeping it all the way 100, it was based on information that existed solely in his own head.

It goes without saying, but I’m a say it anyways, I am biased. In my personal-non-legal-good-old-fashioned-commonsense opinion, Prince didn’t owe this man a thing. Even if he did see it, he didn’t have to buy the guitar from Pickett. He had a guitar fashioned like the first symbol by the person who made the Tamboracca for him. Prince was a master musician and serious about the equipment he used to perform his work. He had a regular luthier, Andy Beech, who made the replica cloud guitars (after the iconic Dave Rusan-designed white cloud guitar of Purple Rain fame was lost forever at a Revolution Concert) replicate the Love Symbol Guitar for him (originally designed by luthier, Jerry Auerswald, who also designed that badass, white Model C Prince played during the Nude Tour in 1990). It makes sense that he would depend on those he’d come to trust for equipment he intended to use in his work.


In August of 1996, Mr. Pickett filed a copyright application. In September of 1996 he then additionally amended his complaint to add copyright infringement against Prince. Mr. Pickett, in his own copyright applications at one point said the guitar is based on the “two-dimensional graphic symbol of Prince Rogers Nelson.” [2]

Pickett was claiming that Prince infringed on his rights in the Love Symbol guitar by having one made that looks similar to it. Pickett admitted that the work was directly inspired the symbol that represented Prince’s name on album covers and other Prince accoutrements. Prince’s defense to the suit was that Mr. Pickett did not have his permission to use the symbol (Prince had a valid copyright in the symbol by assignment as far back as 1992). He further claimed that without that permission, Pickett’s copyright was not valid. Interestingly, Mr. Pickett didn’t argue that he did have permission to use the symbol (which would seem to go the heart of the fraud matter) but rather that he did not need Prince’s permission to use it. So … Prince needs Pickett’s permission to create a Love Symbol guitar, but Pickett does not need Prince’s permission to use the symbol that represents Prince’s name in making guitars? Oh, okay.

Prince’s Motion for Summary Judgment (judgment in his favor, no need for trial) was granted at District Court and Affirmed at Appeals Court. The Appeals Court even called Pickett’s theory implausible. Can you imagine if things had gone in a different direction? The decision would have affected Prince’s right to create things like say, a Love Symbol Bass. :) There would be no adorable little miniature Love Symbol guitars to display (getting a couple for Christmas reminded me of the suit). The 2007 Super Bowl performance would still be amazing, because, well, it’s Prince, but him playing Purple Rain, in the rain, on that beautiful Purple Love Symbol Guitar… Inimitable. Remember Purple Rain at Rave Un2 The Year 2000, or during the Musicology Tour in ‘04(I saw with my own two lil’ eyes) or during 21 Nights in 2007?

Additionally, and what really burns me up about this suit, even years later is knowing that the remedies for this type of action are things like injunction, damages, profits, etc. Can you imagine Prince having to pay another person for each use of his guitar, an instrument that is in fact shaped like his own name? I’m just gonna go ahead and say it, Blasphemous!!!

Ever so glad the courts ruled in Prince's favor. I do have thoughts about frivolous lawsuits and malicious prosecution but I'll leave that for another time.

Much Love 2 u,




Always on Our Minds ~ Forever in Our Hearts

[1] Pickett v. PRINCE, 207 F3d 402 (7th Cir. 2000).

[2] Id.

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