Will The $7.3 Million “Blurred Lines” Verdict Kill Songwriting?

Robin-thicke-blurred-lines-t-i-pharrell-hyypezupRobin Thicke, Pharrel Williams, and T.I. lost their copyright infringement lawsuit to the tune of owing over $7 million to the Gaye estate. If the verdict stands, what does that mean for songwriting as we know it?

Guest Post by Bobby Owsinski on Music 3.0 Blog

The jury awarded the estate of Marvin Gaye more than $7 million today in a copyright infringement decision against artist Robin Thicke and songwriters Pharrell Williams and T.I. over their huge 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” The jury decided that the song was just too similar to Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up” to be a coincidence, even thought that’s probably exactly what it was.

This is just another example of the blurred line (pun intended) between a copy and an influence that permeates not only modern music, but just about any creative endeavor. 
Money_bagsWe’re all influenced by the art and/or craft that we love, and that influence seeps into our every creation whether we like it or not. Sometimes in music it’s totally obvious (the famous George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” vs. “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffonslawsuit), and other times its less so (Sam Smiths “Stay With Me” vs. Tom Pettys “I Won’t Back Down”), but with only 12 notes and a limited number of chord progressions that are pleasing to the Western ear, one might think that it’s surprising that there aren’t more lawsuits for copyright infringement than there already are.
Take the blues, for instance. Pick just about any blues album and you’ll find that not only does each song liberally borrow from countless blues songs by countless blues artists before, but even from songs on the same album. 12 bar blues is that for a reason, and although it’s nice when there’s a variation, you won’t find too many artists messing with a formula that’s worked for 75 years. Do we see any copyright infringement suits there? Read more on Forbes.

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  1. This whole, “we’re all influenced by someone else” excuse is way overblown. I grew up listening to Marvin Gaye’s music and can tell you…the first time I heard blurred lines I thought it was a DJ mashup of Robin Thicke ontop of Marvin’s “Give It Up”.
    What the heck is the point of copyrighting music if it’s okay for people to just use copyrighted compositions and claim they created it themselves? When artists borrow from other artists and give credit where it’s due, it’s creative. But, when they do it and don’t give credit it’s infringement. So, how can anyone expect for music fans to respect copyrights when even the artists are violating those rights?
    Those of us who have been around Pharrell Williams KNOW he’s notorious for borrowing ideas from deceased musicians and not labeling it. There are 4 other songs on Thicke’s album that borrow from Marvin Gaye’s music. Not to mention Robin trying to sing like Marvin Gaye!
    ALL OF THIS IS DERIVATIVE WORK of someone else’s music. If you don’t know what that means, read the definition of Copyright Infringement.

  2. From my own Facebook page, I submit the following.
    “As I’ve said before elsewhere, Nobody can own a style, a genre, or a groove and to me the chord progression, melody or the hook was close enough to warrant a suit but changing your evidence in front of a jury – beings with emotion, almost guaranteed that Pharrell Williams and the ‘Thick’ Robin Thicke would lose the case.
    This case has the potential to turn copyright law upside down if the original judgement stands after appeal because people are going to go mad suing everybody else for anything perceived as an infringement if this case sets a precedent.
    It really is a weird set of horse feathers when it’s claimed that the sound of “Got to give it up” was stolen by the songwriters…… yet, the sheet music for “Got to give it” up which was copyrighted did not/could not possibly have been registered with a ‘sound’ attached. The sound element of the song is what the Gaye’s were suing for but how can anyone copyright an atmosphere, a feel, a genre, or rhythm. Didn’t Bo Didley try that in the 1950’s and failed with the Bo Didley rhythm? Check the following songs: Rolling Stones – Not fade away, George Michael – Faith, The Who – Magic bus, Buddy Holly – Not fade away, Rolling Stones – Mona (I Need You Baby) and stacks of other more deserving cases for copyright infringement. All for just one Bo Diddley rhythm alone!!!
    I just read some further news on the case. The defence lawyer for Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, Mr. Howard E. King didn’t want to comment about the case and the Gaye’s lawyer (Richard S. Busch) but as I predicted, Mr. King is expected to file a variety of post-trial motions to contest the earlier decision. Richard S. Busch has won at least one case after he appealed the first judgement. It ain’t over yet, I think!”
    Bear in mind that thick Robin Thicke told GQ magazine that the inspiration came from Marvin’s song. An inspiration is different from a copyright infringement. The fool changed his story later claiming he didn’t have a hand in writing the song and the jury naturally would have clobbered him for that alone.

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