Did you notice how a commercial for the Acura that ran early this year had music that sounded a lot like Philip Glass? Glass did.
In fact, the composer thought the commercial's soundtrack music not only appropriated elements of his style but also was a direct copy of "Opening," the first piece on his "Glassworks" album.So he hired a lawyer and threatened to sue American Honda Motor Co. and its advertising agency, Ketchum Communications. After several months of wrangling, the case was settled out of court, with Acura withdrawing the commercial and paying Glass a sum that both sides agreed not to disclose.
"Over the years there have been a number of commercials in which the music sounds like Philip Glass," said Jed Wheeler, the composer's manager, "and in 9 1/2 out of 10 cases, it's not. And while it's flattering to a point, it can become a distortion of a composer's music and philosophy. This time Philip said, `Look, I'm getting tired of this,' and decided to pursue it."
Wheeler points out, however, that Glass does not object in principle to his work being used in commercials. He has written music for MCI and for a Christian Dior commercial in Europe. He also wrote a simple theme that will be included on an electronic chip in a new line of Swatch watches.
"We don't actively vend his music," Wheeler said, "but people come to us, and if it's something Philip wants to do and if the terms are right, he does it. Commerce is commerce, but appropriation is appropriation. From our point of view, this is a major victory. It establishes the fact that we're going to be vigilant about this, as other composers should be, too."