PACIFIC STARS AND STRIPES
Mss M. proves she is her own lady in court
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2,1989
LOS A.NGELES (UPI) â€” A federal jury decided Monday that entertainer Bette Midler‘s distinctive singing style was misappropriated by a New York ad agency for a television c o m m e r c i al a nd a w a r d ed h er $400,000 in damages.
Midler sued the Young & Rubicam agency and Ford Motor Co. for $10 million, saying a commercial for the Mercury Sable sedan used an exact reproduction of her first big hit record, “Do You Wanna Dance,” released in 1973. In 1985, she refused the agency’s offer to sing in the commercial.
U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima said Midler should also be paid 7 percent interest on the $400,000 jury award, dating from the time of the initial offer to her. Her attorney, Peter Laird, said “We hope that as a result of this case, national advertising agencies will think twice in the future before they disregard the rights of the artists.”
Midler, who was not in court for the verdict, issued a statement saying she was delighted. “I hope my victory will in a small way contribute to higher ethical standards in the advertising field,” she said. “I also hope it will cause companies to pause before they knowingly and willfully trod on the property rights of others.”
Young & Rubicam lawyers said during the weeklong trial the commercial was made in compliance with current law. Midler’s case was dismissed late last year, then reinstated in June by an appeals court that ruled her case should go to trial to determine whether the agency misappropriated her version of the song.
In a ruling believed to establish new rights for singers, the appeals court found that “when a distinctive voice of a professional singer is deliberately imitated in order to sell a product, the sellers have appropriated what is not theirs.”