Music Industry

How “Blurred Lines” Has Ruined the Record Industry

I’m very concerned about the precedent set by the “Blurred Lines”/”Got to Give It Up” verdict. And I’m not the only one. Check out this article from LA Weekly. It explains why you should be concerned, too.

It was bad enough when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams tried to ruin the summer of 2013 with their smug turd of a pop tune, “Blurred Lines.” But that was just one summer, and it was somewhat redeemed by Pharrell’s other big 2013 collab, “Get Lucky.” Within a few months, we forgot what rhymes with “Hug me” and moved on.

But this time, they’ve really gone and done it. By losing in the “Blurred Lines” versus “Got to Give It Up” copyright lawsuit, Thicke and Pharrell are going to jack up the entire music industry, opening the floodgates to all sorts of frivolous plagiarism claims that will take years to sort out.

A bit of background, in case you’ve been sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber for the past month: The estate of the late Marvin Gaye sued Thicke, Pharrell and rapper T.I. as the songwriters behind “Blurred Lines,” because the Gaye estate felt (and pretty much the entire Internet agreed) that it was a blatant ripoff of Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.” Yesterday, a jury agreed, ordering Pharrell and Thicke to pay the Gaye estate more than $7 million for copyright infringement. (T.I., because his contribution consisted only of a guest rap, was exonerated.)

At first glance, it might appear that justice has been served. To anyone with a pair of ears, “Blurred Lines” is obviously aping “Got to Give It Up,” as numerous mash-ups have made clear. And “Blurred Lines’” general suckiness has been widely discussed, from Rob Sheffield’s brilliant, hilarious takedown(“As a connoisseur of pop trash, I’m baffled I can’t find anything to like about a song this bad”) to the numerous observations that the song’s lyrics are, to put it mildly, kinda rapey.

So we should all agree with Gawker’s assessment of the verdict, right? As they so eloquently put it: “Fuck that song.”

But no matter how much you may have hated “Blurred Lines,” you should be on Robin Thicke’s side in this case. Here’s why.

Continue reading.

Meanwhile, because I’m an equal time kind of guy, here’s Pamela Chelin’s interview with Marvin Gaye II and his attorney, Paul Phillips. They give their side of the story.

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.

Alan Cross has 38569 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

6 thoughts on “How “Blurred Lines” Has Ruined the Record Industry

  • Alan,

    My partner and I have been discussing this case quite actively. I find it interesting that you are concerned about this being detrimental the music industry, but today you also posted a brutal video of Maroon 5 showing everyone how to craft a number one hit. To me, this type of “influence vs infringement” debate comes back to record labels trying to craft #1 hits and not being afraid to borrow music from those that have already produced great songs. Thus, to me, given all the algorithms we have, it now becomes the record labels responsibility to test their song for similarity and then approach the groups that they are being over influenced by prior to release. They can then negotiate compensation arrangements with those groups if they have in fact taken too much of someone else’s song prior to the song becoming a hit. It basically becomes a game where corporate music is being held accountable for borrowing great riffs. Now, I guess the one risk would be if the indie music universe now see’s a dramatic increase in their own costs of doing business because this type of issue also affects them. Is it naive to think that St.Vincent, War of Drugs, Rural Alberta Advantage, Broken Social Scene, Run The Jewels and more won’t stumble upon the same issues that Robin Thicke does? That artists that are pushing the creative boundaries of music won’t stumble into the same issues as the corporate music industry?

    just thoughts. btw – we both love your work.

    Also, have you considered (I’m sure you have) developing a sound cloud page like Stormbo?

    • a couple typos here. apologies
      Stormbo = Strombo
      War of Drugs = War on Drugs

    • Thanks for the detailed comment! And you’re onto something. The music industry is BASED on copying. Here are a couple of examples:

      (1) You’re dead on about the algorithms. Many, many songs are run through programs like Hit Song Science which tests the track against hundreds and hundreds of hit songs. If the new song matches the data points of previous hits, it’s thought to be less of a risk than one that doesn’t. That’s why so many songs are sounding the same these days.

      (2) Whenever a new artist has a hit song, the rest of the industry sends their A&R people scouring the planet for artists with similar sounds in the hopes they can have a hit with that same sound.

      (3) What about hip hop? Hip hop is built on deconstructing sounds and rebuilding them in new ways. What does that mean for things like Amen Break and the Funky Drummer sample? If I’m James Brown’s estate, I’ve already been on the phone to the lawyers for Marvin Gaye’s people.

  • very interesting!

    on hip hop, if you are sampling, does it not already require a conversation with the original creator? Is sampling an ambiguously defined concept?

    on the algorithms… its interesting that the industry views it as a lower risk release if it is similar to historic hits… but now can’t be too close or they risk being sued. Is your biggest concern the fact that now lawyers are going to enter the fray to determine a definition of “influence” and it might involve algorithm oriented analysis? Or is more so that indie bands may accidently stumble into this grey area? or am I missing your concern entirely?

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