Midler v Ford Motor Co. & Others
(1988) 849 F.2d 460 (9th Cir)
The Defendant launched an advertising campaign which was meant to create nostalgic moments through the use of famous songs of past decade. When the original artists of those songs did not agree to those commercials, Defendant hired impersonators to sing the original song for the commercials. The Plaintiff, Bette Midler, was a singer and her voice was impersonated in the commercials. It is pertinent to mention that the utilisation of the song for the commercial was allowed by the Copyright of the song. Plaintiff’s name, image or likeness was not used in the commercial but only impersonation of voice.
(Image Credits: Photo by Alan Light; License at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bette_Midler#/media/File:BetteMidler90cropped.jpg)
Plaintiff filed a suit and claimed rights over commercial appropriation of her voice alleging that her voice was distinctive of her. The District Court did not recognise voice as protectable. In appeal, the Appellate Court that the voice of someone famous as a singer is distinctive to their person and image and therefore, as a part of their identity, it is unlawful to imitate their voice without express consent and approval. The Hon’ble Court was of the view that irrespective of the fact that Defendant had a Copyright license, the voice of a person or other distinctive uncopyrightable features are part of someone’s identity who is famous for that featured is thus controllable against unauthorized use and held that Impersonation of a voice, or similarly distinctive feature, must be granted permission by the original artist for a public impersonation, even for copyrighted materials.