Aircooled VWs have, and always had, a cult following. People who would do almost anything to keep their early Beetles and Type 2s on the road. Unfortunately, there was a time when VW was busy making Golfs, and Polos, and Passats, and didn't give a rodent's behind about those old cars. "They are old and stinky, why don't these freaks buy a shiny new Passat?" They couldn't even be bothered with keeping spare parts for these old clunkers in stock. German law states that a manufacturer has to provide parts for 15 years after the end of production of a vehicle, so VW dumped everything after the 15 years were up.
VW dealers (Yes, there was a time when dealers actually had parts in stock!) were simply throwing them in the bin, or selling them as scrap metal by the truckload. A few clever souls bought a few of these truckloads for beer money and started providing their fellow enthusiasts with parts. When these stashes went dry, or a part just couldn't be found anywhere, they organized imports from South America where these vehicles were still being built. And if that wasn't an option, they even started small scale production runs of these rare, but darely needed parts.
Over the years, this started to become a good, profitable business. Companies like Volkswarenhaus (Volks-store) had pretty much everything to build a new '54 Beetle (or any such vehicle) from scratch. They also offered memorabilia like Tees, or coffee mugs with the iconic VW products.
Some of you may have noticed, that I am using the past tense here.
Well, the marketing guys at VW finally realized that vintage cars have entered modern popular culture, and that everybody and their uncle wants/drives/likes/is pleased to see an older vehicle. So, of course, they now want in on the action. VW is now building their own "Classic Parts Center", which in itself is a laudable thing, but a few weeks ago they also declared war on those independent parts dealers. One could almost say that they remembered where the company came from. "Total destruction, or go home!" so to speak.
Any dealer offering the iconic hubcaps with the VW logo, a shirt with a MK1 Golf, or that very rare distributor cap, body panel, and what have you, is getting very unpleasant letters from them these days.
VW registered the 3-D shapes of their cars as trademarks, which isn't very uncommon. This gave them legal reasons to sue all shops using these. What is uncommon though, is the fact that they also managed to register the German syllable "Volks-", meaning "for the people", as a trademark. So they even sued "Volkswarenhaus", effecticely putting them out of business until they rebranded themselves. Is VW the people of Germany? Are they now going to sue every Volksfest (Beerfests like the Oktoberfest that are being held all over Germany in fall)?
I think that it is important at this point to mention that VW's Classic Parts Center still doesn't offer the wide variety of parts that those independent shops do/did. A lot of classic VW owners will fall on hard times, if they succed with this. And it seems like they will.
Let me state this: It is normal for a car manufacturer to protect their intellectual property as best as they can. The EU put a little dent into that, when they ruled that aftermarket suppliers can also offer "visible" parts such as headlights or wings. Putting the VW logo on products for which the actual company doesn't see a dime is a sketchy business, though.
But coming down this hard on a whole scene is unprecedented. They are artificially setting legal amounts of dispute very high to raise court fees to the max, so that most defendants will rather budge than try their luck in court.
The fact that VW did ignore this market for decades, forcing the scene to come up with alternative ways to keep their cars running, doesn't equate to a customary right, but do they really have to do a big sweep with the help of a seemingly unlimited legal budget to alienate their die-hard fans?