This week we saw a verdict in the case of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” vs. Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” copyright infringement lawsuit and quite frankly, it was kind of shocking. The result: Thicke and Pharrell Williams, who wrote the song, were ordered to pay the Gaye estate to the tune of $7.3 million.
No matter what you think of Robin Thicke or the song “Blurred Lines”, this ain’t right. There are two excellent articles, written post-verdict from LA Weekly and the New Yorker, and I’ve included the links below. Check ‘em out:
Hopefully the ruling will be reversed on appeal, as it should be. Yes, there are similarities between the two songs but mostly in the areas of rhythm and feel/overall vibe… which you cannot copyright. I hadn’t ever heard “Blurred Lines” until this week – I must be living in that hyperbaric chamber Andy Hermann speaks of – but I’ve played “Got To Give It Up” in a couple of cover bands I was in and these two are not the same song… which, at least up ’til now, has always been the basis for any ruling on copyright infringement.
Certainly it’s not anywhere near as blatant as Vanilla Ice’s ripoff of “Under Pressure”, written by Queen and David Bowie, for his hit “Ice Ice Baby”. That the steal is so obvious in that instance, it should be the standard by which copyright infringement is measured. But as Bob Dylan said: “The times they are a changin’…” and all this verdict does is add more (unnecessary) shades of gray to an already (needlessly) gray area.
First off, the case should never have come to trial in the first place. Usually any disputes over copyright, if the plaintiffs have a good solid argument for infringement, should be settled out of court, more or less amicably, as in the case of Sam Smith and Tom Petty over Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”.
Second of all, Robin Thicke should never appear in court on his own behalf as the jury, apparently, found him “massively unappealing” which, when all is said and done, seems to have formed the basis for their decision.
Which means the jury wasn’t really looking at, or listening to, the presented evidence that these two songs are not the same – that “Blurred Lines” is not a direct ripoff of “Got To Give It Up”. Other factors – emotional perhaps – came into play and thus the verdict should be reversed. There are certain elements of the recording and overall sound between the two that are similar but those cannot be the basis for punitive monetary damages against Thicke/Williams because, as Tim Wu writes, “…by that standard, every composer would be a lawbreaker”.
Well, we are an unruly bunch, as outlined here (tongue in cheek)… but, no – that ain’t right either.
That the Gaye family now has another of Pharrell Williams’ songs – “Happy” – on the radar for copyright infringement should be a huge red flag. That Pharrell has admitted that he was “inspired by Gaye and borrowed from him” only makes him a target for these kinds of lawsuits, but again, “Happy” is not the same song as “Ain’t That Peculiar” and acknowledging one’s influences should never be grounds for someone filing a lawsuit against you.
It points up the unfortunate fact that if you, as an artist, release something that becomes insanely popular, goes viral, etc. – i.e., and the bottom line here, makes you a shitload of money – someone somewhere is going to want a piece of that, possibly a substantial piece of that, whether or not it’s justified or the claim has any merit. In a rapidly changing – some would say disintegrating – music industry, this lawsuit amounts to nothing more than a “land grab” – get whatever money you think you’re “entitled to” while you can, and should be seen as such.
As all art is derivative of some other art that has gone before, this ruling sets a very dangerous precedent for everyone working in all creative fields, not just music … Which is why it should be reversed, no money awarded. I won’t even go into the aspect of “better songwriting” here; that’s for another time… Until then, establish a working relationship with a good music lawyer if you don’t already have one.
Nights on Venus News: I’m currently putting finishing touches on the last song, “The Fool’s Journey”, for a 4-song EP, as yet untitled, to be released toward the end of June, 2015. More details to follow…