Blurred Lines blurs the lines
By: Adam Blaier (New-Media-Editor 16′)
What might have been your favorite song of 2013-2014 was recently held to be infringing on what might have been your Grandparents favorite song of the 70s. A United States District Court Judge for the Central District of California, John A. Kronstadt, and eight jurors ruled that ‘Blurred Lines,’ the smash hit by Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams, infringed on Marvin Gaye’s song ‘Gotta Give it Up.’ If you need to compare the two songs, click here and listen for yourself. 17 U.S.C. §102 (2015) sets out that “[c]opyright protection subsists, …, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
It is also important to note the elements needed to prove infringement under 17 U.S.C. section 106 which are: (1) the Plaintiff must allege and prove ownership of a valid copyright (usually done by registering); and (2)the Plaintiff must prove that the defendant violated one of the exclusive rights reserved to the copyright owner under section 106. (The Plaintiff should also show that the defendant in fact obtained the protected expression of the copyright holder, and used that expression in the defendants work).
Interestingly enough, the lawsuit started in 2013 when Thicke and Pharrell filed a lawsuit against the Gaye family, and tried to stop the accusations of infringement before they could get off of the ground. Thicke & Pharrell were ordered to pay Gaye’s children $7.3 million, which is a combination of $4 million in damages and $3.3 million from the profits of the song. Thicke & Pharrell argued that they only took “feel” of Gaye’s record, while the song in its entirety was created in their hearts & minds. They further argued the Gaye family only owns the compositional elements of the record. The Gaye family hired musicologists who successfully articulated the similarities between the two songs. It seems like he did a good job playing on the jurors’ heartstrings portraying Thicke and Pharrell as music thieves. Robin Thicke didn’t do himself any favors during this trial. It came to light that he was intoxicated in the studio during this record, and Pharrell was the mastermind behind the song. In a GQ article, Thicke claimed that Gaye’s song ‘Gotta Give it Up’ was one of his favorite songs (which the defense cited).
The outcome of this case could lead to a very slippery slope in the music industry. This case seems to slightly blur the lines of copyright protection. If not overturned, the precedent set might bring an avalanche of litigation from older artists and their estates, who made a huge impact on their genre. In my opinion, the judge stretched the limit of what “original works of authorship” means by deciding a few chords that were similar, is enough to have infringement. However, if Thick and Pharell simply asked for a license, or permission from the copyright holder (Gaye’s family) this could have been resolved a long time ago.
Eriq Gardner, Blurred Lines’ jury orders Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay $7.4 million, The Hollywood Reporter (March 11, 2015, 4:04 pm)
In Court, You decide: Does ‘Blurred Lines‘ sound like ‘Got to Give It Up?, FoxNews.com (March 11, 2015)
17 U.S.C. §102 (2015) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/102
KORY GROW Robin Thicke, Pharrell Lose Multi-Million Dollar ‘Blurred Lines’ Lawsuit, Rollingstone.com (March 10, 2015)
STELIOS PHILI, Robin Thicke on That Banned Video, Collaborating with 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar, and His New Film, GQ.com, (MAY 07, 2013, 1:20 AM)