The band Beach House is considering legal action against Volkswagen after the car maker repeatedly sought permission to use one of its songs in an ad and then, after the band refused, reportedly commissioned a “soundalike” song for the commercial.
The commercial, which aired in Britain, features moments from a father and daughter’s relationship as she grows up, including scenes where the father is changing diapers, applying sunscreen, and revealing the gift of a Volkswagen. Beach House, a Baltimore-based duo, refused Volkswagen’s multiple requests to use the band’s 2010 song “Take Care” in the ad.
But when the advertisement aired, Beach House was surprised to hear a song that band member Alex Scally told The New York Times “feels like something close to what we made.” Similarities include lyrics – “I’d take care of you” in Beach House’s song and “I’ll watch over you” in Volkswagen’s ad – and the guitar melodies. “A feeling and a sentiment and an energy has been copied and is being used to sell something we didn’t want to sell,” Scally complained.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Volkswagen said it considered “dozens” of songs in addition to Beach House’s before ultimately deciding to commission its own song. “We greatly respect the talent of Beach House and never set out to replicate a specific song of theirs or anyone else’s,” the car maker said.
A lawyer for the band said the duo is considering legal action in Britain.
To watch Volkswagen’s commercial, click here.
Why it matters: Controversy over the use of “soundalikes” in advertisements is nothing new. Bette Midler famously sued – and won – over an imitation of her used in a television commercial, and other artists like Tom Waits have challenged similar versions of their songs as a violation of their publicity rights. Advertisers should be careful when using any element of a celebrity’s image or sound in a commercial without his or her permission to avoid litigation or controversy.