The Supreme Court Monday let stand a $400,000 jury award for entertainer Bette Midler that could convince advertisers to stop using celebrity sound-alikes in television and radio commercials.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award for Midler after a lower court found the deliberate imitation of her voice in an automobile commercial violated California law.Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency, never denied using a singer to imitate Midler's rendition of "Do You Wanna Dance" for a 1986 commercial for Ford Motor Co. But it claimed imitating Midler's rendition of the song was permitted under the federal Copyright Act since it had received permission to use the song by songwriter Bobby Freeman.
The 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, agreed that "mere imitation" of a recorded performance would not constitute a copyright infringement. But it said there was a difference here.
Midler's did not seek damages for the use of "Do You Want to Dance" - she sought damages for the use of part of her "identity" - the 9th Circuit held. "A voice is as distinctive and personal as a face," wrote the 9th Circuit.
In other rulings the court:
- Allowed a Las Vegas casino to keep a $1 million jackpot won by an Arkansas tourist because he was under the age of 21 when he played the slot machine.
- Agreed to decide whether a Florida city may continue to ban the sacrificial killing of animals at religious rituals.
- Agreed to decide whether some taxpayers may claim deductions for in-home offices even if they spend the majority of their time working elsewhere.