Robin Thicke is not celebrating copyright ruling

The Blurred Lines Of Copyright

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Blurred Lines copyright rulingYou’ve probably read or heard about the Marvin Gaye estate winning in the “Blurred Lines” trial. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams owe them over $7,000,000. Given sales of the song, they may be able to afford it.

A California federal jury of five women and three men today (March 10) ruled that 2013 megahit Blurred Lines had infringed on Marvin Gaye’s 1977 track Got To Give It Up.

It was revealed during legal proceedings that Blurred Lines had generated $16.5m in sales, but cost Universal Group an estimated $6.9m in overhead.

The last high profile trial to go the way of the plaintiffs for a similar sum was in another California courtroom, 24 years ago: in 1991, the Isley Brothers were granted a $5.4m payout after a jury found Michael Bolton’s Love Is A Wonderful Thing lifted from their song of the same name.

Curated from Blurred Lines trial: Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke LOSE, must pay $7.3m to Marvin Gaye estate – Music Business Worldwide

Marvin Gaye copyright trialWell, the uproar in musical and social media circles has been significant. And rightly so. The potential negative precedent (regarding litigation since this is not part of “case law”) could be immense. Marvin Gaye copyrighted “Got to Give it Up” using a written lead-sheet or score. Copyright for sound recordings came later.

Plenty of people see this as karma for Robin Thicke. Some have wondered how he got songwriting credit. In the trial, he admitted that he barely had any hand in the writing of the song.

But the issue for musicians and other artists is that, at least on the surface, the decision is founded on stylistic similarities or the same musical “feel”. If popular music for the last five decades is judged solely on style and feel, the courts will be packed with litigation. More importantly, musicians like Scott Colesby who thrive on a particular style, giving credit to and harkening back to their influences could suffer.

Robin Thicke is not celebrating copyright rulingWhich is why we all need to hope and pray that some other direction will be taken in the courts. Or more to the point: litigious people, groups, estates, music industry types, and so on. Here is some commentary from others who have gone down this path. Please add your comments, too!

Since the news broke, there has been a flurry of commentary about what the verdict means for copyright law, particularly whether the jury’s decision will lead to an uptick in lawsuits around songs that are similar in “feel” to an existing  …

The fact that this case even went to trial is fairly remarkable. Many, if not most, infringement cases are settled out of court. In fact, the goal of a plaintiff might not be to go to trial, but rather receive a co-writing credit for future royalties, a cash settlement or even an injunction preventing the reproduction, distribution or sale of the work…

Curated from Blurred (Legal) Lines? | Future of Music Coalition

But let’s not mince words: The lawsuit being litigated against Thicke, producer-songwriter Williams, rapper T.I. and their song is about cash, not artistic theft. If it hadn’t hit big on the charts, no lawsuit.

Curated from How the ‘Blurred Lines’ case could have chilling effect on creativity – LA Times

 

Gaye was a visionary voice of a generation who suffered a violent death far before his time at the hands of his own father. Thicke is a perpetually smirking Ken doll whom we probably would’ve never heard of had his father not been the dad on Growing Pains. Thicke clearly won the familial lottery.

Do not be fooled. This isn’t about Gaye, Thicke or Pharrell. Yesterday’s outrageous, indefensible verdict is an assault upon the livelihoods of all creative people, everywhere. It sets an absurd new precedent that could effectively render the time-honoured artistic techniques of pastiche and homage illegal. It is madness.

Curated from The Marvin Gaye V. Robin Thicke ‘Blurred Lines’ Verdict Is An Assault Upon Creative People Everywhere


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13 comments

  1. Stan, I’d just add that in this particular case, the two songs are ‘extremely’ similar, way more than a sample or quote, as it’s common. Also, I find it curious that so many articles condemning the decision – which Thicke and Williams had somehow anticipated when they attempted to pre-empty any claims before the song hit the charts – suddenly popped up all over the print media. I can’t help it but think that they have industry fingerprints all over them. At least when George Harrison admitted in the 1970s that it was possible that My Sweet Lord had something to do with She’s So Fine, for which he was successfully suited for plagiarism, he was being honest and did not dispute the claim. He even wrote another song, and a hilarious video, commenting on the mixup. And in that case, the songs had different tonal keys. In other words, mistakes and accidental copies do happen. But I find a bit hard to swallow when those accused refuse to see the similarities, given the sad history of copyright appropriation and plain theft tainting the music business. I understand that we may have to establish clearer standards, though, for what’s sample, quote, evocation or whatever one may call it, and judge each case accordingly. For there is such a thing as theft, and in our age of Internet and free streaming and Spotfy and Pandora, whose CEOs make millions, while artists listed on their sites not so much, we must be careful to continue valuing authorship, creative labor and original ideas and, ultimately, how creators may be able to make a living out of their efforts. Thanks

    1. Wes,

      I have so much respect for your analysis of the songs and of the music environment these days.

      Williams did admit to some similarities. And even that could smell like part of the potential conspiracy by the industry that you mention. Obviously, if the Gaye estate gets them to remove “Blurred Lines” from all sales channels, that will beg that question — and that’s what they are now seeking to do (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/marvin-gayes-family-seeks-to-halt-sales-of-blurred-lines-20150311).

      It’s interesting to me that the views on the similarity or lack thereof between Blurred Lines and Got To Give It Up are so polarized. People ranging from the jury to experts of various sorts see the two as “extremely similar” all the way to “highly questionable from the perspective of music theory” (from http://flavorwire.com/508795/heres-why-the-blurred-lines-copyright-decision-is-wrong). And that’s what’s so tricky about music: in one’s person’s ears it sounds like a rip off and in another it’s purely stylistic or coincidental.

      Again, I’m deeply appreciative of what you’ve brought to the dialogue. Walking the tightrope between dreadful precedent and rightful judgement will make this case interesting (pending appeal, of course).

      Thanks and finest regards,
      Stan

    2. Great writing, Stan! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your viewpoint. However, I must agree with Wesley. I’m certain that musicians will look at this case differently from the average listener. It becomes more personal if it reflects your profession or an industry that you’re passionate about. As such, I think the jury tried their best to be unbiased, and comparatively, arrived at the correct decision. As a writer, I’m deeply concerned about copyright, and having anyone use or alter my original content without express permission. I think it’s only fair that credit is given where it’s due.

      1. Zoey,

        As I said to Wes, I think I hear where you’re coming from. You should both know how much I respect your creative works. I question only your compliment about my writing. 🙂

        Your response makes me think I did as lousy a job explaining my position as the Thicke/Williams’ legal team did in protecting their clients. I’m a huge copyright advocate. I’ve pressed for greater copyright protection when it was very unpopular with other musicians.
        However, musical cases won prior to this have been about melodies, lyrics, and other things that are song-specific. As far as I can tell from the public record, this case was won on stylistic grounds even though the song by Gaye was copyrighted using sheet music (not a sound recording). Imagine if writers were sued not for a direct quote, but a certain number of words in the first chapter or using common imagery. (Unsure if that translates well, though.)

        Don’t get me wrong: Thicke bragged about how “Blurred Lines” was influenced by Marvin Gaye’s style and I doubt that he won anyone over in the courtroom.

        But that is not legal grounds for songwriting theft. I have a vested interest in that protection and have been burned in the past. I recall that you have had work stolen from you, too. Protecting artist output is foremost in my mind. And that’s why this verdict leaves my spidey-sense tingling. If it is founded on song style as it seems in the surface, it could open the door to other style-specific (vs. song-specific) litigation. That’s why I want to see dialogue about where real uniqueness lies. In my opinion, it does not live in the style of a piece. It’s in the particulars. In the case of music, that means melody, lyrics, possibly chord sequences coupled with their timing, and perhaps others I’m not coming up with right now. If a particular swing, beat, interplay between bass and keyboard (cited in the Blurred Lines case), or male falsetto is grounds for infringement, that will kill musical output if not musical creativity itself.

        I have no idea if I’ve clarified or “blurred” where I’m coming from…

        Playful blessings,
        Stan

        1. Thank you for clarifying your perspective, Stan. I think you’re an articulate writer and I enjoyed reading this piece very much. If I disagree with you on a point or two, it’s not because you didn’t communicate effectively. It’s simply a difference of opinion. So please take to heart what I’ve said about your writing. 🙂

          From what I’ve read about the case, the jurors listened to both songs, repeatedly, before reaching their verdict. Granted, they didn’t have access to the Marvin Gaye song in its entirety, but the two pieces sounded similar enough that the jury ruled in their favor. They may not understand music composition or its complexity, but perhaps it’s their lack of a trained ear that makes the case so cut and dry.

          Thank you for the stimulating conversation, Stan.

          All My Best,

          Zoey

  2. It’s an interesting one, not least because the caliber of artists being compared is so far apart. On the surface it looks like a victory for original musicianship, but dig deeper into the case’s nuances, as you have here Stan, and the result is much more surprising.

    I misplace the article I read that was speculating on the outcome last week, but the upshot was a legally-minded analysis that concluded this case wasn’t to be decided on the standard audio similarity tests, but how it related to Gaye’s published version. Most likely this refers to the sheet music you mentioned, where I think the similarities were far less and expect a jury of non-musicians (assuming a majority were so) would have a tough time comparing the two in a meaningful way.

    Against that backdrop, I’m not sure how this verdict came about unless the general preconceptions about the artists involved seeped into the courtroom. I’d always favour Marvin Gaye over that odious lump Thicke in terms of listening, but the precedent is certainly the more important element overall. Will be interesting to see if an appeal can turn back the tide.

    1. Steve,

      You’ve said it so well. And I hear you on the article misplacement. You’ll note that I’ve had to add a few links in my previous reply already. I think I read the same or a very similar one as you misplaced.

      I think you’re on to something regarding the calibre of artists and how that could have been in the minds (even unconsciously) of the jury. Thanks for sharing your eloquent (I’m not kidding) insights.

      Stan

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