As the unofficial close of Summer 2016 draws near, today’s news might have many people recalling Summer 2013. During that year, the mega-hit Blurred Lines ruled the airwaves. Not only was the song a mega-hit in the United States for 12 weeks, it also topped the charts in over 25 other countries.
Like much of contemporary music, the hit was heavily inspired by great songs that came before it, which is why the family of Marvin Gaye took artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to court for copyright infringement in 2015. The Gaye family won the case, at much to the surprise and shock of the entire music industry. If a song like Blurred Lines, which contains no direct content (sample) from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give It Up’ could be sued for infringement, is the whole pop music world in trouble??
As Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times report, this saga is far from over…
More than 200 musicians have signed a legal brief supporting Pharrell Williams’ appeal of the $5.3-million judgment handed down against him and Robin Thicke in 2015 after a jury decided that their hit, “Blurred Lines,” was lifted from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”
That verdict stunned many in the music industry, among them music mogul Irving Azoff, who noted that such cases typically are decided by music experts, not juries, because they can involve nuanced elements of music theory and composition.
These musicians, the filing states, “are concerned about the potential adverse impact on their own creativity, on the creativity of future artists, and on the music industry in general, if the judgment in this case is allowed to stand. The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works.
“All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre,” according to the brief. “By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is.
“Quite clearly, the verdict in this case, if based upon the music at all, was based upon the jury’s perception that the overall ‘feel’ or ‘groove’ of the two works is similar, as songs of a particular genre often are. In essence, the Appellants have been found liable for the infringement of an idea, or a series of ideas, and not for the tangible expression of those ideas, which is antithetical to Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act.”
As revealed in the Amicus Brief, the artists in support of the appeal are from various backgrounds. From mega-hit pop singer/songwriters like Bonnie McKee and R. Kelly to producers like Stargate, all have a vested interest in protecting their freedom to create and innovate.
Beyond the particular case at hand, there have been a host of other criticisms heaped upon Blurred Lines. The songs racy videos caused outrage among the public, and turned some of its most ardent fans into fairweather supporters at best. But while those battles lie mostly in the past, the song Blurred Lines has found new relevance in the fight to protect artist.
ICYMI, check out this comparison video of Blurred Lines (2013) and Got to Give It Up (1977). Even with key and tempo adjustments to help the songs have a closer match, to my ear the case still lies firmly with Thicke and Pharrell on this one. As well illustrated in the Brief, the two songs have different melody, verses and harmonic progression, and even a slight difference in beat. Heavy inspiration does not make a direct sample or cover. Leave your thoughts below in the comments.