In 2006, Ben Sisario interviewed Tom Waits about his frequent, necessary lawsuits against corporations that use a Tom Waits android to sell products, after these same corporations approach the real Tom Waits and are turned down.
Here’s the brief New York Times article that ran
Tom Waits (right), who has successfully sued in the past over the use of impersonations of his voice and musical style, is now taking on Opel, a European subsidiary of General Motors, in response to a new ad. ”I have a longstanding policy against my voice or music being used in commercials,” Mr. Waits said in a statement this week, ”and I have lawyers over there investigating my options.” Mr. Waits has sued Audi over imitations of his voice in commercials, and in 1993 he won a $2.5-million suit against Frito-Lay for a Doritos ad. In a statement, Opel responded, ”We actually are surprised about the fact that Tom Waits considers the music that goes with the current TV commercial ‘Lullaby’ for a range of Opel cars as a potential misuse of his voice and style of singing.” Opel said that the underlying music was by Brahms, that it had not approached Mr. Waits and that the only celebrity singer it had considered was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. ”But before even starting any negotiations, a Frankfurt-based singer was found who delivered an excellent rough voice interpretation for the ‘Wiegenlied’ theme in English,” the company added, referring to the Brahms ”Lullaby.” Mr. Waits said: ”If I stole an Opel, Lancia or Audi, put my name on it and resold it, I’d go to jail. But over there they ask, you say no, and they hire impersonators.’
[Click to continue reading Arts, Briefly; Tom Waits Objects to Another TV Ad – New York Times]
Ben S:It must be extremely time-consuming and expensive to pursue these cases. Why is it so important to you to do this?
I ask myself that sometimes. Because there are things I would rather be doing. It does take a tremendous amount of time, energy and money. But in a way you’re building a road that other people will drive on. I have a moral right to my voice now. It’s like property. There’s a fence around it, in a way. In Spain now there’s such a thing as moral rights. So that’s a good thing.
In both these cases — the Scandinavian/German Opel thing and the Spain Audi deal — they called me first to ask me if I would do the commercial. Then, when I politely declined, they turned around and hired an impersonator. So they’re really left hanging out there in the wind legally, since I had documentation that they asked me; it only strengthened my case. But there’s plenty of other situations where they just out-and-out do it. There’s a whole sound-alike industry, and it has to eat too. Like flies at a picnic, you know. “Enjoy your lunch, but we live here too.”
and corporations are used to getting their own way too often:
Ben S: Does it offend you more that somebody is copying you, or that they’re doing it to sell a product?
I don’t mind if someone wants to try to sound like me to do a show. I get a kick out that. They got these bands over there in Europe that do my songs, have a singer with a really deep voice. It’s my own little raggedy version of Beatlemania. [Laughs.] These little bar bands that try to sound like me.
But the product stuff, it bugs the hell out of me. The idea is to make it so commonplace that you barely notice that the whole world is being dominated and controlled by big business. I didn’t get into this to write jingles. I’m trying to have some effect on the culture, and my own growth and development.
I make a distinction between people who are using voice as a creative item and people who are selling cigarettes and underwear. It’s a big difference. We all know the difference, and it’s stealing. They get a lot of out standing next to me and I just get big legal bills. It’s like someone coming into your house and stealing something. It slowly erodes my own credibility. So that’s a pain.
Most of these companies operate more like countries than companies. They’re so large. And the way they behave is kind of like the might and the right of a country, the way they roll over you. They don’t think anything of taking something that they want, because they’re going to get a parking ticket. And it doesn’t even ever reach the brain of the company. The news of this is just like gum on the bottom of their shoe.
When it comes to the face that most of them want to put on for the public, they don’t want to wear corporate feathers. They masquerade more like one of us. So that’s why want to wear your music. It’s the first thing that gets your attention: “Hey, I know that song.” Now they’ve got ya — that’s the foot in the door.
[Click to continue reading Ben Sisario – Conversation with Tom Waits]
Tom Waits should be appointed the Czar of Culture…
Oh, here’s the Opel ad referred to, with the faux Tom Waits soundtrack
The case ended with Opel/GM/McCann Erickson settling for an undisclosed sum.