As I am sure you will all be delighted to hear, I have decided to begin writing a series of articles covering landmark music copyright lawsuits. First up to bat is Robin Thicke vs Marvin Gaye.
Now, as you may know Gaye’s family have been going in hard on Ed Sheeran in recent times, claiming copyright infringement for who knows what, but back in 2014 their eyes were set on Robin Thicke and Pharrell for their catchy song Blurred Lines. They claimed that the song infringed Gaye’s undisputed 1977 banger Got to Give it Up.
Gaye’s family initially won the case back in 2015, but Thicke and Pharrell appealed the judgment. Unfortunately for them, in March 2018 a California court upheld the verdict. They were jointly ordered to pay damages of a whopping $2,848,846.50. Thicke was ordered to pay an additional $1,768,191.88 and Pharrell and his publishing company another $357,630.97.
The legal battle sparked concern in the music industry with numerous experts expressing the view that the verdict was a mistake as Thicke and Pharrell were chastised for copying the ‘feel’ of Gaye’s song, instead of actually copying any sequence of notes, riffs, lyrics or otherwise. One of the judges in the Appeal court, Circuit judge Jacqueline Nguyen, dissented and even warned of the precedent the judgment could set for the music industry. She said the two songs “differed in melody, harmony and rhythm” and said the verdict “strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere”.
Over 200 artists ranging from the likes of John Oates of Hall & Oates (legends) and Curt Smith from Tears For Fears (legends) signed a letter in 2016 expressing their concern. In a court filing they said “by eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgement is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process”.
Have a listen to both songs and see what you think. Have they actually copied the song or just taken inspiration from it? Personally, I share the same concern as many that musicians will become inhibited and unable to express themselves for fear of legal action being taken against them simply as a result of general similarity in songs. With the volume of music released to date and the exponential increase of new music available online it is inevitable that some songs will sound similar.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement action or think someone else has copied your work, or even if you just want advice regarding ownership of material and contracts/licenses, here at Briffa our specialist solicitors are always on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.
Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor