Robin Thicke and Pharrell Hit With $7.4 Million Verdict in Blurred Lines Copyright Infringement Case
Posted on March 11, 2015
A jury ruled against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in the copyright case in whcih Marvin Gaye's children claimed the hit song "Blurred Lines" infringed the copyright of Marvin Kaye's hit song "Give It Up." The jury awarded damages of $7.4 million in a surprising verdict.
Many songwriters are very disturbed by the ruling in the case. Generally speaking it's very difficult to win a case like this. You can't copyright a chord progression or the feel of a song, although you can copyright the exact lyrics and melody. But the Blurred Lines lawsuit has been a total train wreck from the start, and it's all Robin Thicke's fault. Thicke gave some of the most embarrassing and horrifying testimony we've ever seen in a case like this.
He volunteered the fact that he is a serial liar (which no one had even thought to ask). He said he wrote the song, then said he told Pharrell what feel he wanted in the song and then later admitted Pharrell wrote the whole thing. He said he had been high on Vicodin during the writing session. And it just got worse from there. By the time that testimony was finished, anyone would have been ready to rule against Thicke just because he's so obnoxious. And it didn't help that his extramarital exploits were splashed all over the tabloids at the time.
Well, okay, you might say. But what about Pharrell? Everybody likes him. And apparently he is the one that wrote the song in about an hour. Well, unfortunately for Pharrell, he's said in many prior interviews how much he loves and has been inspired by Marvin Gaye's songs. And he wondered what something would sound like if Marvin Gaye did a "bluegrass chord structure with pentatonic harmonies."
Put that together with the fact that the judge only allowed the jury to consider the two pieces of sheet music and not the "feel" of the songs and you get a huge verdict. Comparing the structure of two songs is pretty technical, but many experts say that the two songs are not the same structurally, lyrically or in feel and tone. But they do have some compositional similarities if you look at the sheet music. The problem is, many pop songs have those compositional similarities.
Needless to say, Pharrell, T.I. and Robin Thicke are pretty unhappy. They issued a statement about the verdict saying, "While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward. Blurred Lines was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter."
According to this ruling, Madonna is set to make an absolute fortune if she is inclined to start suing other artists, which seems unlikely given her reaction to the Lady Gaga song "Born This Way" which sounds a lot like Madonna's hit "Express Yourself." Madonna said the song was "reductive" and chastised Gaga a bit in interviews. But she didn't sue, and recently complimented Gaga on her talent.
The Los Angeles Times' Randall Roberts says that the verdict is "a blow to creative expression." He is not the only one that thinks there will be a chilling effect from this verdict, if it stands up on appeal.
The attorney who won the case for the Gaye family, Richard Busch, explained to Billboard explaining how he won. He boils it down to two things: that he had two good expert witnesses who told the jury how parts of each song were similar in the sheet music and and the fact that Robin Thicke contradicted himself over and over again in his testimony. In the piece he calls Thicke and Pharrell "bullies."
We think this one will be appealed and it will hinge on the judge's rulings as to what evidence could be put to the jury. The fact that the jury was not allowed to hear the two songs and judge for themselves and could not consider the feel and tone of the two songs will be key.
Photo: Star Trak/Interscope