There can only be one Graceland, according to the heirs of American icon Elvis Presley.
The Memphis mansion that was once Presley’s home draws over 600,000 visitors a year who come to see the singer and actor’s memorabilia, including gold records, jumpsuits and his famed pink Cadillac.
Danish Elvis fan Henrik Knudsen is such a big admirer of the singer that he attempted to recreate the Graceland experience in the heart of Jutland. Knudsen owns and operates Graceland Randers, an ‘event house’ that includes the Elvis Museum, the Highway 51 Diner and an Elvis Shop. Since its opening in 2011, it has grown into one of Denmark’s top 50 tourist attractions.
But Knudsen’s devotion to The King has ruffled some feathers. The company Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), which represents the Presley family, has been after Knudsen to drop the Graceland name for years and now its case against him is set for a January showdown in Denmark’s Maritime and Commercial Court (Sø- og Handelsretten). EPE is seeking 1.5 million kroner (around $225,000) for violating the Graceland trademark.
Knudsen, who describes himself as “a professional Elvis fan” said he is surprised by EPE's actions.
“When I got this idea back in 2005, there was a lot of media that wrote about this crazy Dane who had this wacky idea and I head nothing [from EPE]. Then in 2010, we broke the news that we would build a house inspried by Graceland and suddenly got a letter from an attorney. But by then I had already trademarked the name," Knudsen told The Local.
Knudsen contends that EPE had every chance to stop his use of the Graceland name before he had invested so much into the project. He registered the name with the Danish Patent and Trademark Office, where there is a three-month objection period.
"Nobody said anything about it back then. EPE has attorneys in Denmark but nobody reacted. Now they want to do whatever they can to stop me and that's unfair. I did everything official, I did everything the right way. You can’t just come and bully me,” he said.
When the EPE filed a complaint after the objection period expired, the Danish Patent and Trademark Office ruled against Knudsen. Rather than simply changing the name of his business, he appealed to the Maritime and Commercial Court.
Knudsen makes his living through Graceland Randers, where entry to the museum costs 99 kroner for adults and 69 kroner for kids, and where up to 6,000 items of Elvis memorabilia are for sale. But he insists this is not about the money.
“Of course I am running a business, but everything I've done has been with my heart in the right place. I am a die-hard Elvis fan and I was doing this when there was no money involved," Knudsen said.
Knudsen also organizes trips from Denmark to the United States and says he has brought hundreds of Danish tourists to Graceland in Memphis.
He even says that during his travels to the US, he has on numerous occasions met with The King’s former wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa-Marie, who expressed their approval of what he is doing in Denmark.
"For more than 25 years, I've been working more or less as a full-time Elvis fan. Everyone has been thanking me for what I am doing in Denmark, and now suddenly this," Knudsen said.
Claus Barrett Christiansen is a lawyer representing EPE in its case against Graceland Randers.
“We have said from the beginning that Graceland Randers should find a new name […] We think that Graceland Randers has been very arrogant in this case by refusing all suggestions about a solution,” Christiansen told the tabloid BT, adding that part of EPE’s case against Knudsen also involves the sale of “false Elvis products”.
Knudsen told The Local that the alleged false products represent just a tiny sliver of the nearly 6,000 products sold in his shop and that EPE has not been able to document that the items were not legitimate. Nonetheless, he decided to discontinue the sale of the disputed items.
Back in July 2014, Knudsen claimed that the company that owns Elvis’s two luxury airplanes, the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II, were “very positive” about moving the planes to Randers after EPE decided to get rid of them. In April, EPE reversed course and decided to keep the planes in Memphis.
Knudsen thinks that the EPE should come see his Randers operation firsthand rather than just send their lawyers.
"We really think that what we do is a great honour to Elvis and to Memphis," he said.