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Late rock star's stepsister files suit targeting Hendrix vodka

Christine Clarridge
The Seattle Times (MCT)

SEATTLE - He may be getting sued in federal court, but Craig Dieffenbach insists partying, clubbing and drinking vodka is an excellent way to honor the spirit of late rock legend Jimi Hendrix.

The local developer and entrepreneur is marketing a purple specialty vodka that carries an image of the guitar icon and the name Hendrix Electric.

The beverage has sparked the latest in a long line of legal battles over who has the right to make money off the late rock star.

Hendrix's stepsister, Janie Hendrix - who inherited control over much of the guitar icon's estate from Jimi Hendrix's father (her stepfather) in 2002 - claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle that her company, Experience Hendrix, is the owner of numerous trademarked images of Hendrix.

She claims that Dieffenbach and his company, Electric Hendrix LLC, have committed trademark infringement, false advertising and other unlawful acts by describing their company as "a Jimi Hendrix family company." Janie also said that the use of Jimi Hendrix's likeness to promote alcohol is offensive.

"As a matter of strict policy, we have never promoted an alcoholic beverage," she said in a statement released Tuesday.

"In view of the circumstances of my brother Jimi's death, this attempt to associate his name with the sale of alcohol beverages amounts to a sick joke."

Jimi Hendrix was drinking and taking drugs when he died from choking on his own vomit in 1970. Because he died without a will, his estate went to his father, Al Hendrix.

Al Hendrix died in 2002, leaving Janie Hendrix control over the estimated $80 million estate and cutting Leon Hendrix - Jimi Hendrix's biological brother - and several other relatives out of the will. Al Hendrix adopted Janie as a child after he married her mother.

Leon Hendrix and the other relatives filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court seeking to wrest control of the estate from Janie in 2002.

In the case - which was rife with allegations of illegitimacy, drug abuse, greed and adultery - Leon Hendrix's lawyers claimed Janie Hendrix schemed and took advantage of their father's poor health and legal naivete to have Leon cut from the will.

Janie's lawyers successfully countered that Al finally cut off his younger son after he grew tired of Leon's drug addictions and chronic requests for money.

Dieffenbach said Tuesday that he is puzzled by Janie's newest lawsuit. For one thing, he said, Leon Hendrix owns part of the company.

"And guess what, he's a Hendrix, too," Dieffenbach said.

Dieffenbach and Electric Hendrix attorney John Mele also said a U.S. District Court judge already ruled in 2004 that Janie's companies do not own the publicity rights to Jimi Hendrix's name and likeness.

Mele said the judge found that because the will was probated in New York state at a time when publicity rights could not be passed down, those rights were not inherited by Janie.

Janie has appealed that decision, which is slated to be reviewed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"But the name is public domain now, and we've trademarked the hell out of it," said Dieffenbach, a millionaire developer who funded Leon's legal battle against Janie.

John Wilson, an attorney for Janie's Experience Hendrix, said the case is not about publicity, it is about trademark infringement. He said the images used by Dieffenbach's company "are similar, if not exact" duplicates, of images that Janie's company has trademarked.

Dieffenbach said his company has no apologies.

"This is all going to come around to bite Janie. ... She's telling people she's got exclusive rights to the name and she doesn't," he said. "She's going to be sued by everyone she's got a contract with."

"Besides, Jimi was all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, and it's more in his spirit to drink vodka than a lot of other things."

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