Blurred Lines come into sharp focus

Written by Margaret Briffa | December 18, 2018


As the year draws to a close so does the long-running copyright battle over hit song Blurred Lines which has finally ended. In a Christmas present that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams could have done without a California Court has confirmed that Blurred Lines is indeed a copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give it Up’. They have been ordered to pay Marvin Gaye’s Estate $5m (appox £4m).

We reported on this case in our blog and it draws to a close the legal chapter of a case that has been going on since 2013. The damages awarded are for past infringement and will be paid by Thicke and Williams and Williams’ publishing company. Going forward Marvin Gaye’s Estate will be entitled to 50% of all future royalties earnt by Blurred Lines.

This is a case that has divided opinion in the music industry. Rather than note for note copying of any sequence the claim was that Blurred Lines had taken the ‘feel’ of Marvin Gaye’s work, the appeal court was split as to whether this was enough for copyright infringement where the two songs had a different melody, harmony and rhythm. The concern now must be that this confirms a greatly expanded scope of what can be claimed as copyright infringement. As music is a global business musicians everywhere must surely be anxious that they too can be caught by claims which are hard to anticipate or even avoid. This ruling will also likely change the way in which musicians accused of copying handle the matter and may lead to more early settlements, at least where the claim is issued in the US.

This judgment makes it more difficult to give musicians advice on any claims made against them or even how best to avoid claims and keep safe. Is the test literally as broad as ‘if the piece reminds you of another then there is risk of infringement’. If so this would be a very unhappy state of affairs and one which could stifle the creativity that the grant of intellectual property rights was meant to encourage.

Written by Margaret Briffa

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