Tom Waits Adds To Money Flood From Licensing Suit Series

A Spanish court decision in favor of Tom Waits marks the fourth time the gravel-larynxed singer-songwriter has won a court victory in his ongoing campaign to protect his unique vocal style and composi

LOS ANGELES--A Spanish court decision in favor of Tom Waits marks the fourth time the gravel-larynxed singer-songwriter has won a court victory in his ongoing campaign to protect his unique vocal style and compositions.

Few musicians have sought legal remedies to perceived violations of their rights as often as Waits, who has enjoyed a much-lauded 30-year recording career with Asylum, Island and, most recently, Anti/Epitaph.

Since 1980, when he amended his 1977 publishing agreement, Waits has maintained a policy of not licensing his songs for commercial use, and he has frequently taken to the courts to defend his contractual rights.

He has also repeatedly litigated against companies that have attempted to replicate his distinctive throaty rasp in advertising campaigns.

In each case in which Waits gone to court, he has prevailed, and he has frequently scored significant punitive awards.

In late February, a Barcelona court ruled that the Spanish production company, Tandem Campmany Guash, had misappropriated Waits' style in a "sound-alike" 2000 TV ad for Audi cars, and ordered the firm to pay unspecified compensation to Hans Kusters Music, Waits' Spanish publisher.

The court-which cleared co-defendant Volkswagen-Audi Espa–a, the carmaker-agreed that music in the spot had followed the structure of Waits' 1987 song "Innocent When You Dream."

Waits' attorneys had noted during the trial that the musician had rejected Tandem Campany Guash's request to license the song for use in the commercial.

Waits learned about the TV ad from postings on fan Web sites, and was alarmed to learn that many believed it was Waits performing the song.


The musician's court battles date back to the late '80s.

In May 1990, a federal jury in Los Angeles awarded Waits $2.5 million in a suit he lodged against chip maker Frito-Lay Inc. and the company's ad agency, Dallas-based Tracy-Locke Inc.

In that case, it was found that a jingle in a 1988 ad for Salsa Rio Doritos has lifted Waits' song "Step Right Up," and that the agency had hired a local Waits impersonator, Steven Carter, to perform the song, even though it knew a lawsuit was a possibility.

Frito-Lay and Tracy-Locke were ordered to pay $500,000 and $1 million, respectively.

In September 1994, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Harvey A. Schneider awarded Waits $20,000 in damages in a suit the singer filed against his former publisher, Third Story Music, over unauthorized use of his songs in foreign commercials.

Waits had maintained that the 1980 clause in his publishing contract prohibiting commercial exploitation of his songs was violated by the use of the song "Heartattack and Vine" in a Levi's jeans commercial in the U.K. and the composition "Ruby's Arms" for French ads for Williams' Gel shaving cream.

Schneider also ruled that Waits was entitled to recover any monies received by Third Story for the use of the songs in the spots.

In December 1996, Third Story lost another round to Waits, when L.A. Superior Court Judge John P. Shook prohibited the firm from licensing any of Waits' songs from Francis Ford Coppola's 1982 film "One From the Heart" for national or multinational commercial use.

The decision came in a trial that combined a suit filed by third Story against Waits in May 1995 and a counterclaim lodged the following month by Waits against the publisher and Herb Cohen, a principal in Third Story and the singer's former manager.

In late 1993, Third Story had licensed a medley from the movie for use in a Suchard Chocolate commercial in Argentina, for a fee of $100,000.

Waits cited the 1994 decision against Third Story and depicted the company's Argentinian license as another violation of his publishing agreement.

Waits' interest in artists' rights extends beyond his own cases.

In November 1989, he was in an L.A. courtroom offering support to Bette Midler when the singer won a $400,000 award from the Ford Motor Co., which had used a Midler sound-alike in one of its ads.