Tag Archives: Law

Bette Midler’s persona


The 1988 California court decision favoring Bette Midler over Ford Motor Company’s advertising agency left legal commentators wondering less about performance rights than what might be called persona rights.

After a number of performers, including Nancy Sinatra in Sinatra v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. (1970), had been unsuccessful in their attempts to make a proprietal claim on an identifiable vocal style, Midler v. Ford Motor Co. reversed the trend.

The Ninth Circuit Court, overruling the trial court, concluded that Midler’s brassy belting of the 1972 hit Do you want to dance? was hers alone. In hiring a singer to imitate the Midler style in a Mercury Sable television commercial, the judge said that Ford’s agency was “pirating an identity”.

This according to “Bette Midler and the piracy of identity” by Jane M. Gaines, an essay included in Music and copyright (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993, pp. 86–98).

Today is Midler’s 70th birthday! Below, singing Do you want to dance? in 1993.


Filed under Performers, Popular music

Poisoning Lully

As one of the most powerful nonpolitical figures at Louis XIV’s court, Lully was far from immune to its culture of intrigue.

Henri Guichard, a perpetrator of various frauds and a rival at the court, hatched a plot to poison Lully in 1674, and approached a corrupt police officer, Sébastien Aubry, who had access to the Opéra and often saw Lully there. The unfolding of the plot, which involved a poisoned snuff box, had a strong element of farce as Aubry ineptly attempted to play both ends against the middle, jockeying for his own best interests while appearing to assist Guichard.

Eventually a mutual associate tipped off the composer, who formally accused Aubry of conspiracy to commit murder. Guichard exercised what influence he could, but Lully, as a close associate of the king himself, had the upper hand. In the end, the composer was able to delay the case until the only two dissenting judges finished their terms of duty.

This according to Jean-Baptiste Lully by Ralph Henry Forster Scott (London: Owen, 1973, pp. 76–83).

Today is Lully’s 380th birthday! Below, Boris Terral portrays the composer in Gérard Corbiau’s Le roi danse (2000).

Related article: Comedy versus opera

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities

Patent applications

Patent applications for new instruments—or for improvements to already existing ones—usually involve one or more technical drawings. These can be of historical interest for several reasons; for example, the article Piano wars: The legal machinations of London pianoforte makers, 1795–1806 by George S. Bozarth and Margaret Debenham (RMA research chronicle XLII, 45–108) makes use of original drawings and descriptions for patents by William Southwell (1794) and his son, William junior (1837), to reconstruct the issues and outcomes of legal actions involving many of England’s top piano manufacturers in the early nineteenth century.

Reproduced above is a page from Brian Hayden’s 1984 patent application for a new way of arranging the buttons on a concertina.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Publication types