Thursday, December 10, 2009

Signed Zeppelin guitar at center of counterfeit controversy

Earlier this year, a Florida memorabilia vendor advertised a guitar bearing the autographs of Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, all three surviving members of Led Zeppelin.

In promoting the guitar for sale, memorabilia company American Royal Arts used the following photograph of Robert Plant, who was said to be signing the item for sale.

The buyer of that guitar, identified in an online report by ABC News as Charlotte, N.C., bartender Barry Stevens. He says he is now questioning the authenticity of his purchase based on the photographic representation of Plant making his signature appearing to be a doctored version of a similar shot. Perhaps, an attorney believes, a doctored version of one particular shot by Stuart Wilson for Getty Images.

Jerry Gladstone, the president of American Royal Arts, testified in court on Nov. 13 that he stands by the authenticity of this item, as shown in a video displayed Thursday on the ABC News Web site. When asked on the witness stand whether he believed the photos to be identical except for the guitar, Gladstone testified:
"No, it doesn't look the same. No, I think his fingers are -- I think that's a standard type of a photo shoot that he takes. A lot of celebrities have a standard type of a way that they stand, but to me, looking at this, his knuckles look different in one photograph to another photograph."
The questioning attorney persisted, asking Gladstone if the photo used to advertise his guitar "was a cropped and Photoshopped version of this other photo that I've shown you that bears the image from Life magazine." Gladstone denied it.

In further courtroom footage presented on the Nov. 23 airing of the TV series "Inside Edition," Gladstone is admonished by Judge Jack Schramm Cox after the following exchange:
Attorney: "Isn't it true, sir, that you altered, doctored and cropped this photograph and then placed it on your Web site in connection with your attempt to sell this particular piece of --"
Gladstone: "You know what, I don't know if this is appropriate for court, but don't you ever -- say that I -- that I doctored something."
The Nov. 23 piece by "Inside Edition" shows other photos that American Royal Arts had allegedly used to authenticate guitars autographed by other musicians, including members of U2 and the Eagles, plus pop starlet Miley Cyrus. Each of the photos appeared to have been doctored from a previously existing photo.

"Inside Edition" credited Steve Cyrkin, the publisher of Autograph Magazine, with the find related to Cyrus's autograph signing. The photo Cyrkin says is the original shows Cyrus signing not a guitar but her own image.

In the episode, reporter Matt Meagher confronts Gladstone outside the courtroom with the Cyrus photos and asks for his reaction to possible doctoring. Gladstone admitted it was "possible" but added, "If somebody actually did doctor those photographs, certainly we didn't."

Five days after that Nov. 13 hearing, Gladstone announced that his company, American Royal Arts, was suing supplier Bruce Hall and his California-based company, Gallery of Dreams. Gladstone alleges that the defendants "sent to ARA and other similarly-situated companies, false provenance and altered/doctored photographs which it represented supported the authenticity and genuineness of the memorabilia it sold to ARA and others."

The ABC News report says Gladstone's supplier "denies any wrongdoing." The report, however, highlights discrepancies pertaining not only to photographs allegedly being altered but also with the authenticity of the signatures. ABC reports:
... there appear to be problems with some of the supplier's claims.

For example, the supplier claimed Don Felder of the Eagles signed guitars at appearances at two California book stores in 2008. But "20/20" spoke with store managers who were there during the appearances. They said they do not recall Don Felder signing any guitars. In fact, they said he specifically asked them to announce in advance he would not sign memorabilia, only books.

As for the signatures of the other band members, Eagles spokesman Larry Solters told "20/20": "In reviewing the available information, we do not believe that these guitars were personally signed by members of the Eagles."
"20/20," the ABC newsmagazine, is scheduled to cover the story in Friday night's episode, which also promises a broader examination of how trick photography is used in marketing. "20/20" airs at 10 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

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