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Cal. Civ. Code § 3344 provides that any person who knowingly uses another's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person's prior consent, shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof.
After the plaintiff Bette Midler, a well-known recording artist, refused to record one of her signature songs for defendants’ use in a commercial, defendants hired one of the plaintiff's backup singers and recorded a version made to sound like the plaintiff recorded it. Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants, for, inter alia, invasion of privacy and violation of Cal. Civ. Code § 3344. Both parties sought summary judgment.
Under the circumstances, did the plaintiff state a claim against the defendants?
The court granted the summary judgment motion to defendants, finding that the plaintiff did not have a claim for unfair competition, invasion of privacy, or infringement of right of publicity because she pointed to no cases wherein a right to privacy or publicity existed in the situation of imitation of voice alone. The court also found that the plaintiff did not have a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 3344, which protected the use of a name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness without prior consent. The court determined that, while the legislature had included the term "likeness" after the term "photograph," the legislature did not include the words "imitation of a voice" after the term "voice." The court rejected the notion that the term "likeness" as it was normally used referred to voice in the statute.