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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Tool Variations

The GOP should think about making Tom Waits its poster boy for tort reform. Convinced of singular uniqueness of his gravelly voice (um, Tom Waits, meet Joe Cocker. Joe Cocker, Tom Waits), the lawyer-mad Waits is threatening to sue the European division of General Motors for using the voice of what he calls an "impersonator" in an advertisement for the Opel car airing in Scandinavia. The ad doesn't claim that Waits endorsed anything, and it doesn't use Waits' voice or music. It's just a Brahms lullaby sung by some German guy that has apparently encroached on the vocal territory--a barren brownlot paved with bourbon and tobacco smoke--that Waits would like to patent for himself.

Waits actually did sue Frito-Lay for violating that patent in 1992, winning a $2.5 million judgment for "damages" he suffered from a Doritos ad that dared to use a husky-voiced vocalist. This idiocy is encouraged by the Lanham Act, a federal trademark statute that empowers folks like Waits to sue if any commercial speech is "likely to cause confusion" about whether a celebrity has endorsed a product. It essentially gave famous people exclusive ownership over commercial use of their likenesses, and was designed to prevent your local car dealership from hiring a Brad Pitt look-alike to pitch the new 0 APR financing.

But Waits has apparently decided to use it in a global campaign to prevent anybody from sounding like him. Which means if you do voiceover work, or sing ditties for a living, you might want to quit smoking and start drinking herbal tea with honey and lemon, because if you start to sound like a deluded megalomaniacal asshole, Tom Waits will sue you.