September 15, 2005
Singer Tom Waits sues over alleged soundalike
By Chris Morris
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Singer-songwriter Tom
Waits has filed suit in a German court against car maker Adam
Opel AG, a division of General Motors, and ad agency McCann
Erickson Deutschland, alleging the companies misappropriated
his unique sound in a TV ad.
companies that have copped his style in "soundalike" ads -- is
seeking damages of at least 250,000 euros.
According to the suit, filed Thursday in a Frankfurt court,
Waits was approached in December 2004 by the company Massive
Music with a contractual offer to create music for a TV spot
for Opel's new car model, the Zafira.
Waits' management and music publisher replied separately in
December and January 2005 that the musician "had no interest in
being associated with any advertisement campaigns whatsoever."
The suit continues, "It is well established in the music
industry that (Waits) does not allow the use of his person,
voice, likeness and/or photo for any advertisement of any
Nonetheless, the action alleges, Opel and McCann Erickson
created a spot in which a singer croons a version of Brahms'
"Lullabye" in a manner "that could successfully mistaken as the
voice of (Waits)." The suit also claims that the music's
arrangement and orchestration is similar to the sound of such
well-known Waits tracks as "Dream Away" and "Innocent When You
Beginning in February, the spot aired in Denmark, Sweden,
Norway and Finland. In April, Waits issued a public statement
equating calling the ad "equivalent to someone sewing an udder
on my face."
The suit claims that Opel and McCann Erickson initially
issued a statement denying that they wished to use Waits voice
in the ad from the beginning. However, in a June 13 letter,
they offered to pull the ad and pay EUR25,000 to produce an ad
for Waits' next album.
"The plaintiff deems this offer not fair enough," the suit
A GM spokesman said the company had not seen the suit and
had no comment. Representatives of McCann Erickson in New York
could not be reached.
Waits has a long history of suing companies who lift his
jazzy, gravelly style for advertising purposes.
In 1990, he was awarded $2.5 million in a suit lodged
against chip maker Frito-Lay Inc. and its ad agency. In 1994,
he was awarded $20,000 after he sued his former publisher over
unauthorized use of his songs in foreign commercials.
Last year, a Spanish court ruled that a production company
had swiped Waits' style in a soundalike ad for Audi cars aired
in the year 2000.