Yahoo! Yodeler Sues for Royalties

Yahoo’s signature “yodel” — which closes out each of the Web portal’s TV ads — has come under fire from a country singer seeking $5 million in damages for copyright infringement.

Rounder Records recording artist Wylie Gustafson, frontman for Wylie & the Wild West, claims in a suit filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that he not only is the Yahoo yodeler, but that the portal has continued recycling his yodel since he recorded it for one-time-use in 1996.

The country performer is seeking $5 million in damages, and an injunction on Yahoo using the yodel, which it has trademarked, in future ads.

Gustafson charges that he was hired through an audio production facility to create and record a yodel for use in Yahoo’s first television commercial, “The Pond,” designed by ad agency Black Rocket. Over time, that yodel has found its way into every television and radio spot for the site, as well as online — as part of Yahoo Instant Messenger.

Gustafson maintains that he was paid $590 for the work, with the understanding his yodel would only be used for that specific commercial. The firm didn’t obtain a written release or agreement for reuse of the yodel, he said.

Spokespeople from Yahoo were not available for comment or to confirm Gustafson’s participation in the commercial. Independent verification by InternetNews.com, however, strongly suggests that the country performer’s claim of being the original yodeler is legitimate.

“I’ve been trying to get it resolved without litigation for such a long time, and they haven’t even acknowledged it,” said Gustafson, who added that he and his lawyers have tried to contact the company repeatedly for the past three years, seeking remuneration. “I’m not the litigious type, but unfortunately, that’s what it’s come to.”

The $5 million claim for damages is “an estimate,” Gustafson said. “If they were paying royalties on the commercials and the Yahoo messenger service … the yodel has probably been heard millions of times.”

“We don’t have any idea what the actual figure is, but Yahoo has all the records of when their commercials aired,” he added. “So that’s just a figure that the attorneys came up with.”

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