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Milder v. Ford Motor Co, US Supreme Court, 849 F.2d U.S. (1988)

Case brief

Name: Milder v. Ford Motor Co, US Supreme Court, 849 F.2d U.S. (1988)

Procedural history

The ad agency Young and Rubicam developed television series for appealing yuppies that evoked memories of college days, using the popular hit of the 1970s. Midler (plaintiff) was the original singer. However, the company used another singer for sound-alike, who was instructed to imitate Midler. The company did not use Midler’s name or picture in the ad. The singer filed the suit for misappropriation of the right to publicity in her voice.


Ford Motor Company’ ad agency Young and Rubicam (defendant) failed to get a recreation of Bette Midler’s (plaintiff) “Do You Want to Dance.” Ford Motor hired plaintiff for the television and as a backstage singer.


Does the company fulfill the condition of tortoise misappropriation by imitating celebrity’s distinctiveness under the Californian law?


Supreme Court’s judgment under section 114 (b) mentioned that “mere imitation of a recorded performance would not constitute a copyright infringement even where one performer sets out to simulate another’s performance as exactly as possible.”

Opinion/ reasoning

California’s court of copyright against copyrights Act provided notes to the judiciary committee. The plaintiff seeks no damages for the song that was preempted by copyright law. The court considers imitating voice and using it for commercial purpose as illegal. The court also presented the opinion that it is unlawful to use song of a person without their consent. Person’s right to publicity states that the song is part of person’s identity. the defendant had no right to use Milder’s voice because the ad agency lacked consent and permission.

Concurring opinion: None

Dissenting opinion: None


The Supreme Court commented on the popular case of Apple Corps. Limited v. Leber, 229 U.S.P.Q 1015. Los Angeles Superior Court held that Beatles imitators had no right to imitation.

Work cited

Hubbert, Cecelia. “Midler v. Ford Motor Co. .” 1988.



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