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Tom Waits for His Rights

Tom Waits is known for his distinctive, gravelly singing voice -- and his ongoing legal battle against commercial attempts to copy it.

The New York Times reports that last Friday a Spanish court awarded Waits damages in a lawsuit against Audi for imitating his voice and music in an advertisement; another case is pending against Opel in Germany.  But these are just the most recent of Waits' efforts.  Well over a decade ago, he won a similar case involving both U.S. federal and California state claims against Frito-Lay, 978 F.2d 1093 (9th Cir. 1992).

Waits has also been using that famous voice to repeat what his lawyers presumably told him, using the European civil law version of the legal argument: 

 "I have a moral right to my voice. It's like property - there's a fence around it, in a way."

He also added a personal note, however:

Mr. Waits said there were two kinds of imitation. "I don't mind if someone wants to try to sound like me to do a show," he said. "I get a kick out of that."

"I make a distinction," he added, "between people who use the 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 out of standing next to me, and I just get big legal bills."

So all those of you singing in the shower are safe, for now.

Tom Waits

P.S.  No word on whether Waits intends to expand his legal efforts to any future copying of his wardrobe.