Midler v. Ford Motor Co.
Why it Matters:
This is one of the first cases addressing the use of impersonation of a celebrity.
Bette Midler declined to do a commercial for Ford Motor Company that would involve her singing one of her popular songs. After the request was rejected, the agency working on behalf of Ford hired a “sound alike” and told her to sing the song and try to sound as much like Midler as possible.
Neither Midler’s name nor picture were used in the commercial and the agency obtained a license from the copyright holder of the song.
The initial court ruled in the defendant’s favor on the principle that there was nothing preventing the imitation of Midler’s voice. Midler appealed.
The Court of Appeals found that while not every voice imitation is actionable, it is actionable when the voice of a distinctive singer is deliberately imitated in order to sell a product.
The initial judgement was reversed and remanded.
Midler eventually collected $400,000.
Midler V. Ford Motor Co., 849 F. 2d 460 (Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 1988).
- Bette Midler Being Inducted Into Songwriters Hall of Fame (perezhilton.com)