A federal jury in Los Angeles concluded that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, the performers and supposed composers of the hit song “Blurred Lines” had committed copyright infringement by using elements of the 1977 Marvin Gaye song, “Got to Give It Up.”
A third defendant, rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris, who performed one verse in the song, was not found to have infringed.
The Hit Single
“Blurred Lines” was a best-selling single in 2013 and sold 7.3 million copies in the US. The parties stipulated at trial that the song had earned close to $17 million overall.
Thicke and Williams were credited as composers of the song, and stated in interviews that they were inspired by Marvin Gaye, and by “Got to Give it Up” in particular.
Thicke and Williams earned more than $5 million in royalties from their hit. Thicke admitted at trial that, despite his earlier claims in interviews, he had not actually written the song.
At trial, Thicke performed the song at the keyboard, and also played songs by U2, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles to show how easy it was to make one song sound like other songs.
The defendants called as a witness a musicologist who concluded that the two songs were “really different.”
The jury was instructed to take into consideration only the sheet music versions of the two songs, without taking in to account how they were performed.
According to an article in the New York Times, taking into account only the sheet music
reflects how inadequate copyright law is when it comes to contemporary songwriting and production practices. In 2015, the arrangement of notes on a sheet of paper is among the least integral parts of pop music creation. We’re decades beyond the time when a songwriter penned a tune on paper, then gave it to musicians to perform.
The Times article called the verdict “a victory for an outmoded law.”