Yet again the gruff US singer songwriter is taking advertisers to court over use of alleged sound-alikes in advertising. This time it's General Motors and McCann Eriksson who are in the dock and an Opel ad that is in the firing line.
Who: Tom Waits, Opel and McCann Erickson
When: September 2005
American singer songwriter Tom Waits filed a lawsuit with the regional court in Frankfurt against car manufacturer Opel and its advertising agency McCann Erickson. Waits claimed damages for infringement of his personal rights by Opel's advertising spot on TV.
The spot had a soundtrack using a version of Brahms' "Lullaby" sung by a voice that sounds similar to that of Waits.
Apparently, before the spot was produced, General Motors had made a number of approaches to Waits, asking him to do the soundtrack. Waits declined on each occasion, citing a policy of not doing commercials.
Waits then alleges that Opel proceeded to hire a sound-alike and the relevant ads were then aired early in 2005 in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway.
Waits is seeking damages and any profits derived from the ads for violating his personality rights.
In a statement, Waits said "Apparently the highest compliment our culture grants artists nowadays is to be in an ad – ideally naked and purring on the hood of a new car. I have adamantly and repeatedly refused this dubious honour". He went on "Whilst the Court can't make me active in radio, I am asking it to make me radioactive to advertisers".
A decision by the regional Court will not be made before early 2006.
Why this matters:
We have been this way before. In 1990 Waits sued Frito-lay and its ad agency Tracy-Locke in the US for the use of an alleged soundalike in a radio commercial for Doritos. He was awarded $2.4million in damages. In Germany personality rights are protected under the German civil code and it will be interesting to see how the Frankfurt Court deals with this special kind of alleged voice imitation.