Music is something that connect people with those directly around them, and those across the world. An art that has been around, dated back to as early as 1000 CE. Through time, and growth in technology, many have been able to express themselves through lyrics, rhythms, and beats. And even with the multitudes of combinations of instruments, notes, keys, and so much more, there’s plenty of opportunities for overlaps. But where do the lines get drawn between similarity and infringement? There have been music copyright infringement cases dating back to 1844 to as recently as 2016 — from all over the world, but more dominantly, within the United States.
Infamously, Robin, Williams, and T.I., vs. Marvin Gaye, is one of the most eminent copyright infringement cases in the last 5 years. In 2013, Blurred Lines composed by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, featuring hiphop artist, T.I.. Robin Thicke’s hit single was record breaking. Being #1 in over 20 countries, and “having led the weekly Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks beginning in June , the track [was] the first summer season No. 1 by a lead solo male since 2004.” Having sold 1 million copies by the 50th day of it’s release, Blurred Lines now has 483,861,685 views on Vevo’s Youtube alone. In 2015, Business Insider released news that Blurred Lines has $16.6 million in earnings for the song.
In 2014, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. were accused of copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye’s, Got To Give It Up.
Marvin Gaye, aka. “The Prince of Soul,” was phenomenal and world-wide respected American singer, songwriter and record producer. Born April 2nd, 1939 in Washington D.C., Gaye had a short life of 44 years, passing away April 1st, 1984. Talents loved by the world, he was highly proficient in piano, keyboard, drums, percussion, synthesizer, and patently, vocals. Famous for an abundance of hit albums and singles — examples include: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Let’s Get It On, It Takes Two, Come Get To This, and Got To Give It Up — which was released in 1971.
In April, 2014, Marvin Gaye’s family sued Thicke, Williams, and T.I., for infringing on the master of soul music himself, Marvin Gaye’s song. T.I. got cleared from lawsuit with the fact that the composers were Thicke and Williams — along with Williams being the producer. Intuitively, Universal Records was charged too.
If you haven’t heard the songs, you definitely should. If you have, or when you do, you’ll be able to hear that there are some distinct similarities. That being said, some say that Blurred Lines has earned it’s own rights as a song, completely apart from Got To Give It Up. Trying to get out of more legal liabilities, Thicke and Williams attempted to settle with Marvin Gaye’s family outside of court. This didn’t turn out so well for them, with Gaye’s daughter Nona and Frankie sued them back, defending their fathers hard work and legacy. Williams claimed that he came up with Blurred Lines all on his own, without the inspiration of Got To Give It Up, or Marvin Gaye on his mind whatsoever. However, more issue arose when Robin Thicke was recorded in interviews commenting that himself and Williams aimed to create a song that “was really reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s song.” After this statement, Thicke later recalled his comment, saying that he had consciously lied, and was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. This recalling of his statement however, did not help Thicke’s or Williams case at all, discrediting him.
Originally Gaye’s family only asked for about $3.5 million. After two years of litigation, the court had finalized a verdict. Becoming more of a case for Intellectual Property versus copyright issues, Thicke and Williams lost the case. paying Gaye’s family $7.3 million (not including the money made from the song after the case ceased.) In the end, with the back and forth, $25 million was lost in damages.
In terms of my personal opinion, I’m bias. 1) I love Marvin Gaye and his work, background, and purpose behind everything he created. 2) I really disliked the song “Blurred Lines,” from the first I listened to it. At first when I listened to the two songs again, I heard the similarities, but at first I didn’t think that it was a fair verdict. After all the research and reading all the analysis of the lawsuit and listening closely, I think the accusations were fair. Especially after the immature and unprofessional defense made by Robin Thicke.
All-in-all, I think there is a lot to learn from infringement cases of all sorts. But it’s true to say that it can get pretty difficult to know whats wrong, what’s right, what’s original and what’s not. Knowing where to draw the line is probably never going to get easier with all the ways around rules and with the progression of technology. That all being said, maybe that’s not true either. Maybe there will be a real algorithm to solve this issues more fairly, quickly, and overall, more efficiently.