‘Blurred Lines’ trial ends in not so ‘Happy’ outcome for Pharrell, Thicke

March 11, 2015

Robin ThickeIn January, I wrote about the copyright infringement lawsuit that was filed against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke by the adult children of the late Marvin Gaye over the hit 2013 song “Blurred Lines.”

The Gayes alleged that the song was a replica of the Prince of Soul’s 1977 chart-topper “Got to Give It Up,” which the family owns rights to, and the jury agreed. However, the case may have also blurred the lines for future artists when it comes to paying homage to a past genre and violating copyrights.

The story began in August 2013 when singer Thicke, producer Pharrell and rapper T.I., who also appears on the song, filed suit against the Gayes as a preemptive measure after the Gayes spoke out about “Blurred Lines” being too similar to “Got to Give It Up.” The Gayes fired back with their own copyright infringement claim in October 2013.

While “Blurred Lines” shot up the charts and became one of the best-selling songs in history, the lawsuit played out in typical rock-and-roll fashion, with acknowledgements of drug use, public deception and a hunger for fame.

In September 2014, a deposition of Thicke was released in which he admitted being high during the recording of “Blurred Lines” and said that Pharrell was solely responsible for the song’s creation, though Thicke admitted that he had pretended to be more involved after the fact because he “wanted credit.”

Ultimately, the trial in the case began in mid-February of this year, and Thicke and Pharrell were successful in arguing that the jury should not hear the actual recording of “Got to Give it Up” because only the song’s sheet music was protected by the copyright.

Even without comparing the complete songs, the jury found in favor of the Gayes this week, deciding that copyright infringement had, in fact, taken place. They ordered Thicke and Pharrell to pay the Gayes $7.3 million in damages. The Gayes’ attorney also said he plans to stop sales of “Blurred Lines” until an agreement is reached on future royalties.

An attorney who has represented numerous musicians in copyright infringement lawsuits told the Associated Press that the decision “has blurred the lines between protectable elements of a musical composition and the unprotectable musical style or groove exemplified by Marvin Gaye.”

He implied that the decision sets bad precedent, and that today’s artists should be able to pay “homage” to past genres without the fear of being sued for copyright by the artists who originally shaped the genres.