At the LA County Courthouse, a jury will be asked to determine if Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke blatantly ripped off Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” to write the hit “Blurred Lines.” If you’ve been following the testimony from Pharrell, he admits to copying the feel of “Got to Give It Up” but the song features no samples and no lifted passages. “Feel but not infringement” is the words he’s been using. And if you want to get all musicologist about it, the two songs are structured quite differently in terms of chord changes and arrangment.
The jury is being asked to rule on the difference between of being inspired by another song and infringing on that song’s copyright. In other words, is it plagiarism to mimic the “feel” (whatever that is) of another song? Because if it is—WOW. We’ve not got a big, BIG problem.
The LA Times breaks it down:
But let’s not mince words: The lawsuit being litigated against Thicke, producer-songwriter Williams, rapper T.I. and their song is about cash, not artistic theft. If it hadn’t hit big on the charts, no lawsuit.
Specifically, the case is mostly about Thicke’s ill-advised reference to Gaye’s song during interviews and the bid by Gaye’s estate and publishers to take advantage of the fuzzy line between inspiration and infringement, and monetize it.
Regardless of the ultimate verdict, the suit could have a chilling effect on creators, especially in an era when most every song in recorded music history can be accessed in seconds. What artist will acknowledge specific inspiration when it could be used as evidence in a copyright infringement suit?
And it could get even weirder. Just about any artist could be accused of copying the feel of another. If AC/DC wanted to be assholes, they could sue thousands of bands. And if I were in charge of the Ramones estate, I’d line every other two-and-three chord punk band from the last 40 years against the wall.
Read the LA Times story. Pray that the jury does the right thing. Deliberations continue.
UPDATE: Pamela Chelin, who has been in court for the entire trial, begs to differ. She writes “I am told by major lawyers this case is not precedent setting at all.” That would be a relief!