Sixteen years ago he won an influential case against Frito-Lay over a vocal sound-alike in a Doritos commercial, and he has pursued imitators ever since. Last Friday Mr. Waits was awarded damages in a case against the Audi division of Volkswagen for a commercial in Spain using music that was similar to his song "Innocent When You Dream," sung in a voice like his. Another lawsuit is pending in Germany against the Opel division of General Motors, this one for a version of the Brahms "Lullaby" performed in what he calls a suspiciously Waitsian voice.You'd think the companies have at least learned not to ask him first. Without that juicy nugget of evidence, I wonder if he can keep winning these things. I'm not an expert in this area of law. I just find it interesting. I'm trying to picture the trial. Are there experts who can testify about the elements of a gravelly voice and a doomed attitude?
"It does take a tremendous amount of time, energy and money" to pursue these cases, Mr. Waits said from his home in Northern California. "But in a way," he added, "you're building a road that other people will drive on. I have a moral right to my voice. It's like property - there's a fence around it, in a way."
At a time when musicians are increasingly open to licensing their music for advertising, television and other commercial uses, Mr. Waits has steadily built a reputation not only for refusing to license his music, but also for aggressively defending his style as a unique legal property.
"It's part of an artist's odyssey," he said, "discovering your own voice and struggling to find the combination of qualities that makes you unique. It's kind of like your face, your identity. Now I've got these unscrupulous doppelgängers out there - my evil twin who is undermining every move I make."...
In both cases, Mr. Waits said, the agencies had first approached him to perform and then, when he turned them down, hired imitators.
January 20, 2006
Don't try to make any money imitating the distinctive voice of Tom Waits. He will pursue his legal remedies: