It was announced on Tuesday that a United States jury have found unanimously that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' 2013 hit Blurred Lines infringes the copyright in Marvin Gaye's Got To Give It Up, first released in 1997.
As noted in our previous article one of the most surprising things about this case is that it even went to trial in the first place when most similar claims settle. While we can only speculate at the parties' motives for refusing to resolve the dispute outside court, for Thicke and Williams, the trial has resulted not only in an order to pay Gaye's family $7.3 milion in damages but surely also in considerable harm to their respective reputations as song writers and musicians. Thicke, for example, was forced to admit not only that he had been abusing alcohol and prescription drugs throughout the writing, recording and promotion of the track but also that he had previously lied about the extent of his contribution to the song-writing process, both in and out of court.
So what next? It remains to be seen whether a precedent has been set for other successful claims for music copyright infringement because many aspects will be limited to this particular case, for instance, the fact that, in accordance with a now repealed US copyright statute, the jury were not allowed to compare the two songs directly by listening to the sound recordings. In this case, copyright in Gaye's song was restricted to the sheet music that was registered for copyright protection, so jurors were only permitted to hear a version of Got To Give It Up with various elements removed, including percussion and backing vocals, so as more accurately to reflect the underlying composition.
Arguably the removal of these elements should really have helped rather than hindered Thicke and Williams's defence, as these were among the similarities identified by musicologists but it sounds like we have certainly not heard the end of the matter. Thicke and Williams' lawyer, Howard E King, issued a statement immediately following the finding of infringement stating that his clients would be appealing the decision which he described as setting "a horrible precedent for music and creativity" and explaining that they feel they "owe it to song writers around the world to make sure this verdict doesn't stand".
The concern at the potential implications of the verdict is a view shared by others in the music industry, including Collyer Bristow's client, David Arnold, a British record producer and film composer known for scoring five James Bond films. Shortly after the decision was announced, Arnold tweeted "Hope Pharrell can appeal.i think the blurred lines thing is ridiculous and very dangerous if the ruling stands", later commenting to Collyer Bristow that in his opinion, juries are generally not well placed to distinguish between writing and production in music copyright cases. Incidentally, had this case been before a UK court, a judge rather than a jury would have decided the matter as juries are largely reserved for criminal trials.
Arnold's own view, as a composer, on the issue of copyright infringement was that Blurred Lines may have been produced to sound like Gaye's track but it was still a "fundamentally different song". This sentiment was echoed in a statement by Williams' lawyer to Fox News that "the harmonies are different, the chords are different and the notes are different" and also by Williams himself, who gave evidence at trial that although Blurred Lines "channels that '70s feeling, to feel isn't copyright infringement".
Meanwhile, Gaye's family have warned via their lawyers that they intend to take things even further by applying for an injunction to prevent future sales and distribution of Blurred Lines and are even considering a second copyright action in respect of Williams' hit Happy, which they are alleging bears a resemblance to Gaye's 1965 single Ain't That Peculiar.