October 31: Bette Midler vs. Ford Motor Company
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit awarded Bette Midler $400,000 in her suit against Young & Rubicam, advertising agency for Ford Motor Company, on this date in 1989. Ford had been advertising its cars and trucks with television commercials using hit songs; when Young & Rubicam was unable to contract with the singers of those hits, it would hire “sound alikes” — in Bette Midler’s case, Ula Hedwig (for the song, “Do You Wanna Dance?”), who had been a backup singer for Midler for several years. Midler sued Ford and Young & Rubicam, and won her suit against the latter on appeal when the court ruled that a voice is as distinctive and personal as a face, and that her “rights of publicity” had been violated.
“I don’t do commercials. I don’t believe in it. I resent people looking at that commercial and thinking that’s me. They think I sold out. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose this trial. The damage is done.” —Bette Midler