[UPDATE: 4 March 2020, 6.42 GMT]: One Twitter user alleges Behringer has been actively hiding replies linking to media coverage of the events.]
[UPDATE: 5 March 2020, 9:49 GMT]: Peter Kirn issues an official statement to Motherboard.
Behringer’s fake product, the KIRN CorkSniffer, sparked widespread discussion across social media upon its YouTube reveal on 2 March.
Behringer’s video seemingly aimed to undermine the credibility of journalist Peter Kirn, founder of respected music tech blog CDM and co-creator of MeeBlip synths.
If you still feel a bit lost, though, here’s a run-down of the main points.
It’s no secret that Behringer has taken inspiration from other manufacturers for its products since at least 1997, with its alleged copies of Mackie mixers. However Behringer’s recent streak of “chasing analogue ghosts” – i.e. manufacturing synths that closely resemble classics – has sparked much debate within the synth community.
Uli Behringer defends his company’s actions
Uli Behringer recently took to Facebook to address some of the claims made against him and his company from customers and boycotters alike.
But, despite what some social media users have commented, the KIRN CorkSniffer was not just another reaction to the “haters” about cloning synths.
It was more nuanced than that; the calculated assault on Peter Kirn, went as far as to apply for a trademark for the name KIRN, meaning that unless he filed an opposition, Peter would have lost control of his own name within Europe.
Peter Kirn’s coverage of Behringer
We can trace the rift back to 2009 when Peter Kirn used CDM as a platform to point out an apparent “rip off job” from Behringer. CDM pointed out similarities between the Behringer and Apple websites, as well as referencing previous lawsuits Behringer faced, including the Roland/BOSS dispute from 2005.
Kirn also published an article on Behringer, this time criticising the company’s tactics and product value. Peter Kirn ended the critique with the following plea: “kick your copying habit if you can. I could forgive you if you didn’t keep doing it over and over again. That suggests to me, and many others, that it’s malicious, that you hope consumers won’t notice and will buy your cheaper version because, cosmetically, it looks the same as something else. If it really is different, and if it really is better, then that only makes this more of a tragedy.”
Kirn reports on Behringer’s legal action and threats of legal action
On 13 June 2018, Peter Kirn via CDM reported that Behringer had threatened legal action against Chinese music technology site, Midifan. The site had allegedly labelled Behringer as “shameless” and a “copycat” multiple times for its production of synths inspired by beloved classics. Behringer’s legal representative claimed in a cease and desist letter that Midifan was posting infringing content against the mass manufacturer, that was causing Behringer’s reputation to be “seriously damaged“.
Six days later, on 19 June 2018, CDM criticised Behringer for its legal moves against Dave Smith Instruments (DSI) and a number of individual forum users on Gearslutz forums. The lawsuit was in response to posts on a thread from a DSI employee and forum users that condemned Behringer’s approach to gear manufacturing and an alleged lack of innovation. Behringer sought $250,000 in the case against DSI but lost.
Behringer responds, draws distinction between copying and “reverse-engineering”
On 20 June 2018, Uli Behringer personally responded to Peter Kirn’s request for comment on the issue. Behringer defended and clarified the company’s intentions with the disputes, and proceeded to defend its stance on synth reproduction:
“One needs to be clear about the distinction between blatantly copying someone else’s product and the principle of reverse engineering”, the statement reads. “Copying a product 1:1 is clearly illegal, however, reverse engineering is something that takes place every day and is accepted as part of a product development process known as benchmarking”.
Kirn reports Behringer’s moves to register trademarks actively used by its competitors
It was then on 25 November 2019 that CDM published its long read piece on Behringer. The article detailed the list of so-called “clones” Behringer had announced or released in 2019, complete with alternative products to consider over Behringer’s. Condemning the series of synths and the company’s approach to business, Kirn said: “It’s Behringer’s aggressive strategy in regards to competitors, press, PR, and intellectual property that have made it divisive in the synth business… that includes the recent move of registering trademarks actively owned by competitors. Not only does KORG definitely own and actively use Mono/Poly, but we’ve confirmed even the Polivoks name is registered and used on an active product”
We cannot find evidence that Behringer responded specifically to the allegations made by CDM.
Behringer applies to trademark the name KIRN
Behringer took to Facebook on 23 January 2020 to announce its registration of the trademark KIRN, asking its audience “Any clue what we have in mind with it? ?”. Those aware of Kirn’s contribution to the synth world with MeeBlip jumped to the conclusion that Behringer would be offering up its own version of one of MeeBlip’s synths, perhaps even its current $130 MeeBlip Geode.
Behringer begins taunting Kirn on social media
It’s now evident that a real synth release was never Behringer’s intention. It was instead used as an aggressive retaliation tool against Peter Kirn. The public taunting of Kirn began on 16 February, in a Facebook post that presented an image of a cardboard cutout in the shape of a piano. The caption read:
Behringer reiterates that technology is free to use unless it’s protected
It was then on 19 February that Uli responded to “the haters” via Facebook, claiming that: “There is not one magazine, forum or thread where we don’t get criticized or even attacked… We also see constructive criticism which we truly welcome as it’s a great opportunity for us to learn and improve”. This followed accusations that the newly released TD-3 included an exact copy of the circuitry within the x0xheart, despite Behringer failing to attribute the designs to the independent synth creator, Open Music Labs, among others. “Technology is free for everyone to use unless it’s protected”, he continued.
On 1 March 2020, Behringer then uploaded a photo of a children’s toy laptop on Facebook, with the caption “Introducing the new KIRN MeeGroove”. This post has now been deleted.
Behringer releases video of KIRN CorkSniffer video
Finally, on 2 March, Behringer uploaded a video to its YouTube channel, introducing the ‘KIRN CorkSniffer’. The video featured a render of a fake synthesiser, complete with cork dials and background narration from a voice with a seemingly false French accent.
As we reported, the term ‘Cork Sniffer’ originates from the wine tasting community, describing individuals who argue and debate over the subtleties of various factors that contribute to flavour. “Château Neuf Du Pierre” is another obvious nod toward Kirn, with ‘Pierre’ being the French form of the name ‘Peter’.
Behringer takes down video amid public criticism and issues public apology
Only hours after posting the video, and amid widespread condemnation, the video was taken down along with any mention of it.
A short while later, Uli posted an apology in which he stated that the video was meant to be “pure satire” and “in no way did the team ever intend to make any connection to Semitism, as some people have alleged”.
Behringer came under further fire from the online community for issuing what was considered by some to be a “non-apology apology”, due to the post concluding with “We unreservedly apologize to Peter and anyone who felt offended”. Some users also suggested that the apology shifted blame from Uli Behringer to the marketing team.
Behringer says it will cancel trademark application for KIRN name
In response to a comment on the apology post, Behringer confirmed it would cancel its trademark application for the name KIRN.
Peter Kirn is yet to publicly respond to the provocative jab but did respond to a video on Twitter in which a Behringer TD-3 is doused in red wine, kicked, and pulverised with a hammer.
Okay, I appreciate the support, but before anyone else does this, you can send your synths to me – I can give you the address. 😉 I can try to rig an acid chorus full of them. Otherwise – thanks for everyone's kind words today. Means a lot. https://t.co/NPCM1aqi9D
— peterkirn (@peterkirn) March 2, 2020
Behringer deletes apology and resumes business as usual
Less than 24 hours after issuing a public statement via Facebook, Behringer removed it from the platform. Meanwhile, a video was uploaded to YouTube giving a demo of the long-awaited and upcoming RD-9 drum machine, inspired by the Roland TR-909.
Ten hours later another video was uploaded, announcing the availability of the RD-6 in four new colours . Behringer also took the opportunity to celebrate reaching 100,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel. No further reference has been made to the incident from the company, despite users across social media reacting to the take-down.
One Twitter user, however, alleges Behringer has been actively hiding replies linking to media coverage of the event.
Peter Kirn issued a statement to Motherboard, VICE reports. “Music-making and creating new tools for music are really what I’m passionate about. I’m glad to get back to those,” Kirn said. “And people who are on a limited budget for gear—I’m right there with you, which is why I’ve been writing about inexpensive and free and open and DIY tools. Honestly, they’re the most fun.”
Public opinion remains split. Many are outraged by Behringer’s behaviour towards Kirn. Others either support it or are ambivalent to it, seemingly as long as Behringer continues producing affordable synths.
Behringer is unquestionably giving music makers on a budget access to great musical instruments. We just hope it can continue to do so without stifling independent journalism or making questionable legal moves against smaller manufacturers.