In August 2013, Pharrell Williams (“Pharrell”), Robin Thicke, and Clifford Harris, Jr. (known by his stage name, “T.I.”) filed a complaint for declaratory relief against members of Marvin Gaye’s family in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The complaint began by stating that “[p]laintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest. . .” Before the complaint was filed, the Gaye family had made numerous allegations of copyright infringement against the musicians and had also threatened to commence lawsuits. Specifically, the Gaye family accused the musicians of ripping off Marvin Gaye’s 1977 top Billboard single “Got to Give It Up” with “Blurred Lines,” which was similarly a “song of the summer” in 2013. In their complaint, Pharrell, Thicke, and T.I. contend that they were merely attempting to “evoke an era,” and that the Gaye family was “claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.” In July, they filed a motion for summary judgment.
On October 30th, the Court denied the motion. After reviewing competing musicologist reports submitted by both sides, Judge Kronstadt concluded that there was “substantial similarity [between the songs] to present a genuine issue of material fact.” The plaintiffs had argued that, to the extent there were any similarities between the songs, the similarities were merely “commonplace and generic building blocks of musical composition,” or “scenes a faire.” However, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ scenes a faire argument and finding that the “signature phrases, hooks, bass lines, keyboard chords, harmonic structures and vocal melodies” in both songs were similar. “The intrinsic similarity of the works is a jury question,” the judge concluded. The trial is scheduled to begin on February 10, 2015.
The case is Pharrell Williams et al. v. Bridgeport Music Inc., case number 2:13cv6004 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.