In the last couple weeks, Robin Thicke and Pharrell William’s hit jam “Blurred Lines” has been back in the news. This time, Marvin Gaye’s estate has sued Thicke and Pharrell for copyright infringement. The claim is that “Blurred Lines” closely resembles Marvin Gaye’s late ’70s hit “Got to Give it Up”. The jury sided with the Gayes and ordered a $7.3 million judgment against the singers.
There have been concerns about the precedent this sets for artists creating new music. Pharrell has acknowledged that the two songs are similar but that his intent was only to evoke the “feel” of Gaye’s music. This is very common; musicians are inspired by those who came before and can’t help but create music that evokes the same feel. Now, the legality of that commonplace practice is being called into question, and Thicke & William’s attorney has argued that this could create a chilling effect on “musicians trying to create an homage to the sound of earlier artists.”
Intellectual property lawyer Larry Iser also criticized the verdict, saying that Gaye didn’t own a copyright on an entire genre, and the fact that “Blurred Lines” paid homage to Gaye’s song or had the same feel was not infringing.
It’s still early to tell what this case will mean for the music industry. Following the verdict, both sides have filed motions raising questions about the verdict. Gaye’s estate wants the verdict changed to find T.I., the 3rd writer on “Blurred Lines, as well as Interscope (the distributor) and Star Trak, Pharrell’s label. They also requested an injunction against further distribution of the song. The defense filed a motion for declaratory relief due to “inconsistencies” with the verdict.
These new motions mean that a judge will likely hear the issues of this case again and may overturn the jury’s verdict or reduce the damage award. This case is far from over and will change the way music copyright cases are decided in the future.
My two cents? I can definitely here the similarities in the song, but there are also a lot of differences. Based on my knowledge, there’s a serious question of law on whether the parts of the song that are similar are even copyrightable. What make’s a bass line sufficiently original? Can you copyright the “feel” of a musical composition? I can’t answer these questions, but I’ve attached the two songs and you can decide for yourself. Feel free to put your two cents in the comments, dissenting opinions are welcome 😉
Blurred Lines video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyDUC1LUXSU
Marvin Gaye video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdnyrnLXFhg