The “Blurred Lines” Copyright Verdict: Still Causing Issues–And This is Very Bad for Music

I hate to say it, but I called this one. When the “Blurred Lines” verdict came down–the one saying that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams violated the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” simply by writing a song with a similar feel and vibe–I fretted that this would open the doors to all kinds of lawsuits. Ambulance-chasing copyright lawyers would team up with acts from the past to sue for infringement just because a contemporary song sounded vaguely like one of theirs. Other artists, fearing litigation, would proactively settle any possible claims–which is exactly what happened with the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit, “Uptown Funk.”

And the “Uptown Funk” troubles aren’t over yet.  From Pitchfork:

Now “Uptown Funk” is facing another “Blurred Lines”-style challenge over its authorship. A lawsuit filed last month claims “Uptown Funk” lifts key elements from Minneapolis electro-funk band Collage’s 1983 single “Young Girls.” The “Blurred Lines” verdict was a big deal because it raised questions about inspiration and vibe—when does homage cross over into plagiarization? Collage’s case against “Uptown Funk” could move this line to new extremes, potentially stifling the very creativity that copyright law is supposed to protect.

While popular music has been recycling itself more and more over the past two to three decades, intellectual property has become more important to the music industry as a revenue source, says Kembrew McLeod, a communications professor at the University of Iowa. The “Uptown Funk” case seems to be a symptom of those dual trends. “We’re basically heading down a path where people are getting sued over imitating styles, or sensibilities,” McLeod says. “If we continue down this path, the music industry is going to litigate itself to death.”

The whole music industry is now paranoid. This isn’t good for anyone except lawyers and musicologists-for-hire, of course.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “The “Blurred Lines” Copyright Verdict: Still Causing Issues–And This is Very Bad for Music

  • November 20, 2016 at 11:47 am
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    This reminds me a lot of the late 80s when John Fogerty was being sued for “ripping off” John Fogerty on the song written by John Fogerty, but oddly owned by somebody else. Hopefully somebody some work and find the footage of John on the stand with his guitar, playing 10 or 11 songs back to back with the same four cords and never ever changing anything, just the words. Different artist, different songs, but the same chords, but somehow that was ok

    Reply
  • November 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    For someone who is recognized as a “musicologist” in the bio section of this article (at the bottom), you sure have glossed completely over the inner workings of this case and the musicological aspects of what the jury heard. Great to say “I called this one,” but then to manipulate the facts throughout the article to support such a self-serving statement is just transparent and lame. The case wasn’t only about “a similar feel and vibe.” On the contrary the evidence in the case before the jury included identical notes and sequencing, it included the start of the rap/parlando sections in the two songs starting and ending on the same bar, at the same minute and same SECOND in each song, etc. In short, the evidence was overwhelmingly in support of direct copying, which was bolstered by Thicke’s constant statements to the media that he told Williams he wanted to make a song that was just like “Got to Give it Up,” and by Williams’ statements to the media that he was literally pretending in his mind that he was Marvin Gaye when he “wrote” “Blurred Lines.” Plain and simple, “Blurred Lines” was stolen from “Got to Give it Up.”

    Reply
    • November 20, 2016 at 7:24 pm
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      Back up. My original point–one that I maintain–is that the “Blurred Lines” verdict gave license to those who believe that they are now entitled to sue over issues of feel and vibe.

      While there may have been some solid similarities when it came to the order and placement of notes in both “Got to Give It Up” and “Blurred Lines,” I’ve seen other examinations of the evidence say just the opposite. But let’s not debate that particular case because that’s not the point.

      Regardless of which side you want to take, the idea of suing over feel, vibe, inspiration, homage, etc that emerged from the “Got to Give It Up”/”Blurred Lines” trial has captured the imagination of a certain time of litigator. The case of Spirit’s “Taurus” vs. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is a prime example. Fortunately, it was thrown out of the court for the same reasons the Gaye estate triumphed in their case.

      We haven’t seen the end of these sorts of trials. Remember the old saying “Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ.”

      Reply
  • November 20, 2016 at 10:27 pm
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    What baffles me is considering this case, why Creed isn’t writing cheques to Pearl Jam every day!!
    They can call it an homage, or call it an influence, but a lot of their songs sound, at least to my untrained ear, far more similar in tone, mixing and production than these two do, and only written within a year or two apart, not thirty!

    It’s not just me, try “Axis of Awesome” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co9mW_9hH2g), an Aussie comedy act who does 40 hit songs with same 4 chords.

    Where are the lawsuits here??

    Reply
    • November 25, 2016 at 12:50 am
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      Axis of Awesome doesn’t cop copyright because it Parodies are protected by Fair Use

      Reply

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