"Blurred" Origins

03/11/2015 | Financial Fraud

Theft.  Masterpieces of American art.  Millions of dollars at stake.  No, this is not the plot of the next James Bond movie; it is the background of one of the largest bombshells in the music industry in years.

A federal jury in California determined musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams committed copyright infringement when authoring their Summer of 2014 smash hit “Blurred Lines.”  The jury concluded Thicke and Williams’s song was improperly drawn from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up.” 

The jury awarded a staggering $7.4 million verdict, including $4 million in copyright damages, and unjust profits totaling $1.8 million from Thicke and $1.6 million from Williams.  Additionally, $9,000 in statutory damages was awarded.  The verdict amount is believed to be the largest ever in a music copyright case.  According to testimony, “Blurred Lines” earned nearly $16 million profit.

The verdict—and the fact the case went to trial to begin with—is rather shocking because most of these cases are settled or dismissed by the trial judge by summary judgment.  However, this case went all the way to verdict after an intense one-and-a-half week trial.

During the trial, Thicke and Williams’s lawyers argued the similarities between the two songs were slight, and they were only similar because their beats harkened to the same “funk” era, and not because “Blurred Lines” used the same chord progression, melodies, and lyrics as “Got to Give it Up.”  Additionally, the Defendants argued musicians must be allowed some artistic free license, and should not be slammed every time their recordings seem “similar” to other recordings.

The jury, however, disagreed with the Defendants’ argument in its verdict.  However, the jury determined Thicke and Williams did not “intentionally” infringe on Gaye’s music, merely holding their song infringed on the “sheet music version” of Gaye’s work. 

While the jury determination is legally conclusive, you can be the judge.  Here you will find a music video mashup of the two songs, and you can decide for yourself if Williams and Thicke blurred their music with Marvin Gaye

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Here at the Poppe Law Firm, we love having a catchy tune to groove to on our drive to the office or to play in the background while working on your case.  But, if you’re planning on writing your own summertime hit, try not to write a song that has to be defended in court.