August 5, 1992, Filed

BOOCHEVER, Circuit Judge:

Defendants Frito-Lay, Inc., and Tracy-Locke, Inc., appeal a jury verdict and award of $ 2.6 million in compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees, in favor of singer Tom Waits.  Waits sued the snack food manufacturer and its advertising agency for voice misappropriation and false endorsement following the broadcast of a radio commercial for SalsaRio Doritos which featured a vocal performance imitating Waits' raspy singing voice.  On appeal, the defendants mount attacks on nearly all aspects of the judgment.

In challenging the judgment on Waits' voice misappropriation claim, the defendants first contend that our decision in Midler v. Ford Motor Co., 849 F.2d 460 (9th Cir. 1988), recognizing voice misappropriation as a California tort, is no longer good law.  Next, they contend that the district court erred in instructing the jury on the elements of voice misappropriation.

In challenging the judgment On Waits' false endorsement claim under section 43(a) of the Lanhim-Act, the defendants contend that Waits lacks standing to sue because he is not in competition with the defendants.  They also argue that Waits did not establish his claim at trial, and that damages and attorney's fees were improperly awarded.

Because it is duplicative, we vacate the award of damages under the Lanham Act.  We affirm in all other respects.


Tom Waits is a professional singer, songwriter, and actor of some renown.  Waits has a raspy, gravelly singing voice, described by one fan as "like how you'd sound if you drank a quart of bourbon, smoked a pack of cigarettes and swallowed a pack of razor blades. . . . Late at night.  After not sleeping for three days.  " Since the early 1970s, when his professional singing career began, Waits has recorded more than 17 albums and has toured extensively, playing to sold-out audiences throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia.  Regarded as a "prestige artist" rather than a musical superstar, Waits has achieved both commercial and critical success in his musical career.  In 1987, Waits received Rolling Stone magazine's Critic's Award for Best Live Performance, chosen over other noted performers such as Bruce Springsteen, U2, David Bowie, and Madonna.  SPIN magazine listed him in its March 1990 issue as one of the ten most interesting recording artists of the last five years.  Waits has appeared and performed on such television programs as "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with David Letterman," and has been the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles appearing in such publications as Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal.  Tom Waits does not, however, do commercials.  He has maintained this policy consistently during the past ten years, rejecting numerous lucrative offers to endorse major products.  Moreover, Waits' policy is a public one: in magazine, radio, and newspaper interviews he has expressed his philosophy that musical artists should not do commercials because it detracts from their artistic integrity.

Frito-Lay, Inc. is in the business of manufacturing, distributing, and selling prepared and packaged food products, including Doritos brand corn chips.  Tracy-Locke, Inc. is an advertising agency which counts Frito-Lay among its clients.  In developing an advertising campaign to introduce a new Frito-Lay product, SalsaRio Doritos, Tracy-Locke found inspiration in a 1976 Waits song, "Step Right Up." Ironically, this song is a jazzy parody of commercial hucksterism, and consists of a succession of humorous advertising pitches.' The commercial the ad agency wrote echoed the rhyming word play of the Waits song.  In its presentation of the script to Frito Lay, Tracy-Locke had the copywriter sing a preliminary rendition of the commercial and then played Waits' recorded rendition of "Step Right Up" to demonstrate the feeling the commercial would capture.  Frito-Lay approved the overall concept and the script.

The story of Tracy-Locke's search for a lead singer for the commercial suggests that nothing would do but a singer who could not only capture the feeling of "Step Right Up" but also imitate Tom Waits' voice.  The initial efforts of the ad agency's creative team, using a respected professional singer with a deep bluesy voice, met with disapproval from executives at both Tracy-Locke and Frito-Lay.  Tracy-Locke then auditioned a number of other singers who cotttd sing in a gravelly style.

Stephen Carter was among those who auditioned.  A recording engineer who was acquainted with Carter's work had recommended him to Tracy-Locke as someone who did a good Tom Waits imitation.  Carter was a professional musician from Dallas and a Tom Waits fan.  Over ten years of performing Waits songs as part of his band's repertoire, he had consciously perfected an imitation of Waits' voice.  When Carter auditioned, members of the Tracy-Locke creative team "did a double take" over Carter's near-perfect imitation of Waits, and remarked to him how much he sounded like Waits.  In fact, the commercial's musical director warned Carter that he probably wouldn't get the job because he sounded too much like Waits, which could pose legal problems.  Carter, however, did get the job.

At the recording session for the commercial David Brenner, Tracy-Locke's executive producer, became concerned about the legal implications of Carter's skill in imitating Waits, and attempted to get Carter to "back off' his Waits imitation.  Neither the client nor the members of the creative team, however, liked the result.  After the session, Carter remarked to Brenner that Waits would be unhappy with the commercial because of his publicly avowed policy against doing commercial endorsements and his disapproval of artists who did.  Brenner acknowledged he was aware of this, telling Carter that he had previously approached Waits to do a Diet Coke commercial and "you never heard anybody say no so fast in your life." Brenner conveyed to Robert Grossman, Tracy-Locke's managing vice president and the executive on the Frito-Layaccount, his concerns that the commercial was too close to Waits' voice.  As a precaution,Brenner made an alternate version of the commercial with another singer.

On the day the commercial was due for release to radio stations across the country, Grossman had a ten-minute long-distance telephone consultation with Tracy-Locke's attorney, asking him whether there would be legal problems with a commercial that sought to capture the same feeling as Waits' music.  The attorney noted that there was a "high profile" risk of a lawsuit in view of recent case law recognizing the protectability of a distinctive voice.  Based on what Grossman had told him, however, the attorney did not think such a suit would have merit, because a singer's style of music is not protected.  Grossman then presented both the Carter tape and the alternate version to Frito-Lay, noting the legal risks involved in the Carter version.  He recommended the Carter version, however, and noted that Tracy-Locke would indemnify Frito-Lay in the event of a lawsuit.  Frito-Lay chose the Carter version.

The commercial was broadcast in September and October 1988 on over 250 radio stations located in 61 markets nationwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.  Waits heard it during his appearance on a Los Angeles radio program, and was shocked.  He realized- "immediately that whoever was going to hear this and obviously identify the voice would also identify that [Tom Waits] in fact had agreed to do a commercial for Doritos."

In November 1988, Waits sued Tracy-Locke and Frito-Lay, alleging claims for voice misappropriation under California law and false endorsement under the Lanham Act.  The case was tried before a jury in April and May 1990.  The jury found in Waits' favor, awarding him $375,000 compensatory damages and $ 2 million punitive damages for voice misappropriation,and $ 100,000 damages for violation of the Lanham Act.  The court awarded Waits attorneys' fees under the Lanham Act.  This timely appeal followed.


In Midler v. Ford Motor Co, we held that "when a distinctive voice of a professional singer is widely known and is deliberately imitated in order to sell a product, the sellers have appropriated what is not theirs and have committed a tort in California.  " The Midler tort is a species of violation of the "right of publicity," the right of a person whose identity has commercial value - most often a celebrity - to control the commercial use of that identity.  We recognized in Midler that when voice is a sufficient indicia of a celebrity's identity, the right of publicity protects against its imitation for commercial purposes without the celebrity's consent.

The defendants ask that we rethink Midler anyway, arguing as the defendants did there that voice misappropriation is preempted by section 114 of the Copyright Act.  Under this provision, a state cause of action escapes Copyright Act preemption if its subject matter "does not come within the subject matter of copyright..... including works or authorship not fixed in any tangible medium of expression." 17 U.S.C. § 301(b)(1).  We rejected copyright preemption in Midler because voice is not a subject matter of copyright: "A voice is not copyrightable.  The sounds are not 'fixed."'

Waits' claim, like Bette Midler's, is for infringement of voice, not for infringement of a copyrightable subject such as sound recording or musical composition.  Moreover, the legislative history of section 114 indicates the express intent of Congress that "the evolving common law rights of 'privacy,' 'publicity,' and trade secrets..... remain unaffected [by the preemption provision] as long as the causes of action contain elements, such as an invasion of personal rights . . . that are different in kind from copyright infringement." Waits' voice misappropriation claim is one for invasion of a personal property right: his right of publicity to control the use of his identity as embodied in his voice.

The defendants next contend that the district court committed prejudicial error by rejecting their proposed jury instructions on three elements of the Midler tort: the deliberate misappropriation for commercial purposes of (1) a voice, that is (2) distinctive and (3) widely known.  We consider jury instructions as a whole to determine if they are misleading or inadequate.

(1) "Voice" vs.  "Style"

The defendants argued at trial that although they had consciously copied Tom Waits' style in creating the Doritos commercial, they had not deliberately imitated his voice.  They accordingly proposed jury instruction which distinguished in detail between voice, which is protected under Midler, and style, which is not. [The proposed instruction read in pertinent part:
Style is the way, manner or method of carrying out an activity....... In contemporary music, there are a great many styles or "sounds," for example..... blues, dixieland, country and western, rock, rap, rhythm and blues, etc. Style is how a song is sung, how the music is delivered, how the words of a song are expressed.  Style includes mood, phrasing, and timing, whether a selection is performed loudly or quietly, whether the song is expressed in singing, talking, or a combination of the two. Style is not subject to ownership.  No singer can appropriate for himself any style and exclude others from performing in the same style.  Any singer is free to sing in the same style.]  The district court rejected this instruction.  Instead, its instructions on voice misappropriation track closely the elements of the tort as they are formulated in Midler.  The court's instruction directed the jury to decide whether Waits' voice is distinctive, whether his voice is widely known, and whether the defendants had deliberately imitated his voice.

The defendants argue that their proposed "style" instruction was crucial because of the deliberate stylistic similarities between the Doritos commercial and "Step Right Up" and because in instructing the jury on Waits' Lanham Act claim, the court told the jury that it could consider Waits' singing style, songwriting style, and manner of presentation.  In failing to give their proposed instruction, the defendants contend, the court misled the jury into believing that it could also consider the defendants' admitted imitation of Waits' style in determining liability for voice misappropriation.

We disagree because, read as a whole, the instructions were not misleading.  In charging the jury, the court repeatedly noted that two claims were presented for determination and gave separate instructions on each claim.  The court's voice misappropriation instructions limited the jury's consideration to voice, and in no way implied that it could consider style.  Indeed, in addressing the jury in closing argument, Waits' attorney agreed with the defendants that style was not protected.  Moreover, the court included an additional instruction that effectively narrowed the jury's focus to Waits' voice and indicated that style imitation alone was insufficient for tort liability.  For the defendants to be liable for voice misappropriation, the court stated, the imitation had to be so good that "people who were familiar with plaintiff's voice who heard the commercial believed plaintiff performed it.  In this connection it is not enough that they were reminded of plaintiff or thought the singer sounded like plaintiff . . . . " Even if the jury were initially confused about whether the defendants could be liable simply for imitating Waits' style, this instruction would have disabused them of this notion.

(2) Definition of "Distinctive"

The defendants next argue that the court's instruction concerning the meaning of "distinctive" was an unfair and inaccurate statement of the law because it confuses the "distinctiveness" of a voice with its identiflability or recognizability.  The instruction given states in part: "A voice is distinctive if it is distinguishable from the voices of other singers. . . . if it has particular qualities or characteristics that identify it with a particular singer." At trial the defendants' experts testified that identifiability depends, not on distinctiveness, but on the listener's expections; that distinctiveness and recognizability are not the same thing; and that recognizability is enhanced by style similarity- The defendants argue that these theories were inadequately dealt with by the court's instruction and that because anyone's voice is identifiable by someone, it was error for the court not to make clear the difference between distinctiveness and identifiability.  We disagree.

 The defendants' technical argument that distinctiveness is a separate concept from identifiability, while supported by their experts' testimony, has no basis in law.  Identifiability is properly considered in evaluating distinctiveness, for it is a central element of a right of publicity claim.  Our Midler holding is premised on the fact that a person is as identifiable by voice as by any other indicia of identity previously recognized as protectable.  Although we did not define "distinctiveness" in Midler, we stated: "A voice is as distinctive and personal as a face.  The human voice is one of the most palpable ways identity is manifested.  We are all aware that a friend is at once known by a few words on the phone. . . . These observations hold true of singing . . . ."

The court's "distinctiveness" instruction informed the jury that it could consider the recordings of Waits' voice introduced into evidence and the testimony of expert and other witnesses.  The court thus invited members of the jury to use their common sense in determining whether Waits has a distinctive enough voice to warrant protection, and to consider as well what the experts had to say.  This was entirely appropriate.

(3) Definition of "Widely Known"

The defendants next object to the district court's instruction concerning the element of "widely known" on the ground that it was too vague to guide the jury in making a factual determination of the issue.  The court instructed the jury: "A professional singer's voice is widely known if it is known to a large number of people throughout a relatively large geographic area." (Emphasis added.) The court rejected an instruction proposed by the defendants, which reflected their contention at trial that Tom Waits is a singer known only to Music insiders and to a small but loyal group of fans: "A singer is not widely known if he is only recognized by his own fans, or fans of a particular sort of music, or a small segment of the population.  "

The legal underpinnings of this proposed instruction are questionable.  The defendants assert that because Waits has not achieved the level of celebrity Bette Midler has, he is not well known under the Midler standard.  We reject this crabbed interpretation of Midler.  The defendants' proposed instruction would have excluded from legal protection the voices of many popular singers who fall short of superstardom.  "Well known" is a relative term, and differences in the extent of celebrity are adequately reflected in the amount of damages recoverable.  Moreover, even were these instructions inadequate in some regard the error would be harmless, for we agree with the district court that the "great weight of evidence produced at trial indicates that Tom Waits is very widely known."

In sum, we find no 'error in the instructions given to the jury on Waits' voice misappropriation claim.

II Lanham Act Claim

Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), prohibits the use of false designations of origin, false descriptions, and false representations in the advertising and sale of goods and services.  Waits' claim under section 43(a) is premised on the theory that by using an imitation of his distinctive voice in an admitted parody of a Tom Waits song, the defendants misrepresented his association with and endorsement of SalsaRio Doritos.  The jury found in Waits' favor and awarded him $ 100,000 in damages.

The defendants argued that Waits' false endorsement claim must fail on its merits because the Doritos commercial "did not represent that . . . [Waits] sponsored or endorsed their product." We disagree.  The court correctly instructed the jury that in considering Waits' Lanham Act claim, it must determine whether "ordinary consumers . . . would be confused as to whether Tom Waits sang on the commercial . . . and whether he sponsors or endorses SalsaRio Doritos.  " The jury was told that in making this determination, it should consider the totality of the evidence, including the distinctiveness of Waits' voice and style, the evidence of actual confusion as to whether Waits actually sang on the commercial, and the defendants' intent to imitate Waits' voice.

At trial, the jury listened to numerous Tom Waits recordings, and to a recording of the Doritos commercial in which the Tom Waits impersonator delivered this "hip" endorsement of SalsaRio Doritos: "It's buffo, boffo, bravo, gung-ho, tally-ho, but never mellow. . . . try' em, buy 'em, get 'em, got 'em.  " The jury also heard evidence, relevant to the likelihood of consumer confusion, that the Doritos commercial was targeted to an audience which overlapped with Waits' audience, males between the ages of 18 to 35 who listened to the radio.  Finally, there was evidence of actual consumer confusion: the testimony of numerous witnesses that they actually believed it was Tom Waits singing the words of endorsement.

This evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that consumers were likely to be misled by the commercial into believing that Waits endorsed SalsaRio Doritos.