Midler V. Ford Motor Co. Case Summary

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Case Name: Midler v. Ford Motor Co. 1988, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 849.F.2d 460

Procedural History: Bette Midler (Plaintiff) appealed a judgment summary of the US District Court granting the summary judgement in favor of Ford Motor Co (Defendant). Middler moved for appropriation of her distinct voice for use in a car advertisement.

Statement of Facts: Ford Motor Co. aired a car commercial which they played songs from the 70’s to give a nostalgic feeling to their audience. Ford asked Midler to sing one of her well known songs for the commercial but she declined. Ford acquired permission from the song’s copywriter owner and proceeded with a sound alike of Midler. Fords commercial did not advertise Midler’s name or any picture or video of her. Midler then brought a suit to the district court against Ford, and stated that her voice was protected from appropriation and
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The US First Amendment protects much of media in what it can replicate in likeliness or sound. If the purpose is "informative or cultural" the use is immune; "if it serves no such function but merely exploits the individual portrayed, immunity will not be granted.” Felcher and Rubin, "Privacy, Publicity and the Portrayal of Real People by the Media," 88 Yale L.J. 1577, 1596. The Court of Appeals looked at Motschenbacher v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 498 F.2d 821 (9th Cir.1974) for precedent. Ford, like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., used an imitation of Midler’s voice in their commercial to give the views an impression that Midler was singing for them. Ford’s primary goal was to promote their commercial for sells of their product. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co posted an add that suggested to the viewers that Motschenbacher advocated their product without his consent. The courts recognized this to be an appropriation of the attributes of one's

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