“Blurred Lines” Subject of a Plagiarism Controversy–and I Think It’s Just Dumb

With each passing year, it’s getting tougher and tougher to be original.  There are only so many ways you can organize notes on the Western case into a pleasing melody.  Duplication–unintentional repetition of note sequences once used someone else at some point in the past–is inevitable.

People need to stop harping about how one song sounds a lot like another song from forty years ago. That may be true, but in 99.9% of the cases, the new song’s melody/hook/arrangment was discovered independently and without prior knowledge of the old one.  And the simpler and catchier the melody, the greater the chance that it’s been used before.

Here’s my favourite example.  Sum 41’s 2002 album, Does This Look Infected?, featured this big single.

Got that?  A bunch of snotty kids from Ajax, Ontario, cranking out a solid punk-pop ditty.  But then it was pointed out that back in 1997–five years earlier–an Italian singer named Nek released a single called “Almena Stravolta.”

For Sum 41 to have plagiarized “Alemana Stravolta,” you have to prove that they had prior knowledge of the song and deliberately ripped it off.  What are the chances of them grabbing what would have been the melody to an Italian song?  Yes, “Alemana Stravolta” was a hit in Europe, but seriously, what are the odds of a bunch of Ajax punks hearing it in an era when the Internet was still very, very young when it came to music?

A more convincing case might be made against a K-Pop group called Norazo.  In 2011, they released a track called “King of Sales.”

Given that Sum 41 had a sizeable following in Japan, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the writers of “King of Sales” had been exposed to “Still Waiting.”

This brings me to the latest case of supposed plagiarism: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” vs the family of Marvin Gaye.

A company called Bridgeport Music claims that “Blurred Lines” infringes upon Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” because it “feels” and “sounds” the same.  They also claim that there are similarities between “Blurred Lines” and a Funkadelic song called “Sexy Ways.”

Let’s listen to the evidence, shall we?  We start with “Blurred Lines.”  Pay close attention to the feel and the groove.

Now we move to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” from 1977.

Finally, here’s “Sexy Ways” from Funkadelic from 1974.

Is the groove and feel similar?  Certainly.  Does it evoke a bygone era in music.  You bet.  Was “Blurred Lines” influenced by these other two songs.  Probably.  But is this grounds for the serious charge–a crime–of plagiarism?  If it is, though, that means you can copyright/trademark a rhythm and a groove. Doing that would open a whole universe of hurt.

Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr., the princples behind “Blurred Lines” have had enough.  They’re proactively suing over those allegations made by Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music.  You can read all about it at the Hollywood Reporter.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

3 thoughts on ““Blurred Lines” Subject of a Plagiarism Controversy–and I Think It’s Just Dumb

  • August 16, 2013 at 7:39 pm
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    BULLSHIT!….first its totally on case by case basis…

    you pulled that statistic out of your ass……you have no clue

    yes….coincidence happens…

    yes….total lifting happens….and everything in between…

    CREDIT the artist you lifted from…..in Mr. Thicke's case…..this is a direct rip…and its nowhere near as good…
    and the funkadelic song.. is not the same groove AT ALL……talk about deflecting and a bad argument…

    He put new lyrics over pretty much Gaye's tune….not just the tune …the entire arrangement is copped….

    At least it has different lyrics….and melody over top…but its totally lifted……and in my opinion he didn't change it enough…
    although you can see they tried…

    there are some things that are truly generic…. but Got to Give it Up…was in a class by itself…

    doesn't go as far as Jimmy Plage and Robert Replant….but……

    Your argument that there's only so many notes and mathematical combinations is true…but there are infinite ways of putting them together….. and being original is what the skill and integrity is all about…. Admitting its lifted and that its an homage….ok….but still credit is due…

    Reply
  • August 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm
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    I was playing "Alemana Stravolta" when my 19 year old son came into the room because he said he heard me playing "Still Waiting". I would love to know what the translation to English is, because even the rhythm of the words are identical. Are you saying bands aren't savvy enough to seek out old music, foreign music, and copy it, hoping that no one will catch on? I'm not saying that Sum 41 did this, but I think even they would object to being characterized as "A bunch of snotty kids from Ajax", who, I assume you think are too dumb to pull off something like this.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm
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    Robin Thicke may have stolen Marvin Gaye's song, but I still have to ask…in the video there are silver balloons that spell out "Robin Thicke has a big dick". Seriously, what an ass. What kind of man would put something like that in his own music video? Makes me wonder if he is even equipped with one. Either that or he has the mentality of an 8 year old!

    Reply

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