In March of this year, a Federal jury in Los Angeles ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had infringed copyright by using elements of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” in their song “Blurred Lines”. Gaye’s estate was awarded damages to the tune of $7.3 million. The case had gripped the music industry for over a year.
WHY WAS THIS CASE DIFFERENT?
What distinguished the Blurred Lines saga from the plethora of other copyright infringement lawsuits was that Williams and Thicke had refused to settle out of court. The case ascended to the level of a jury verdict.
It was acknowledged in court that Blurred Lines had earned more than $16 million in profit, however the infringement reportedly cost its authors almost half that amount. This outcome begs the question – is it better to simply reach a compromise rather than litigate in copyright infringement cases?
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
During the frenzy of Blurred Lines, another potential copyright infringement lawsuit was being negotiated. British singer Sam Smith’s Grammy-nominated song “Stay With Me” was alleged to bear significant similarities to Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”. Smith agreed to an immediate and amicable agreement. Petty even went so far as to publicly state that the word ‘lawsuit’ was never mentioned.
As part of the agreement, Smith reportedly allowed both Petty and Jeff Lynee to be credited as co-writers of the song (along with a team of others) and as a result, both will receive a portion of the royalties. Notably, both Petty and Smith have spoken publicly about the agreement (in an attempt to combat the Striesand effect) and stated that they remain on good terms.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SETTLING?
The “Blurred Lines” saga was no doubt lengthy, expensive and perhaps even embarrassing for the musicians involved. However, this process could have been avoided if the parties were willing to settle via alternative dispute resolution.
There are numerous benefits to the alternative dispute resolution process, particularly when pursuing breach of copyright, including:
- Outcomes can be negotiated in such a way that are more responsive to individual party needs;
- It costs less and is resolved more quickly than litigation;
- All negotiations are confidential and outcomes are not publicly available;
- Relationships are preserved, particularly in tight knit industries where reputation is important.
While not all cases settle as amicably as Smith and Petty’s, it is worthwhile undertaking some form of dispute resolution process (whether it be negotiation, mediation or arbitration) as a first line of defence in order to preserve time, relationships and your wallet.