I Called It: The “Blurred Lines” Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Has Made the Music Industry Paranoid

When the verdict in the “Blurred Lines” vs. “Got to Give It Up” trial came down, I told everyone who would listen that this set a horrible precedent. Copyright infringement just because one song “feels” like another? It’s illegal to write a song inspired by the sound of another? Uh-oh.

My theory was that this was going to create a generation of ambulance-chasing lawyers anxious to manufacture paydays by going to older artists and saying “You know, [insert name of current hit here] sounds and feels a lot like a song you wrote and released in [year]. We should sue! It worked for Marvin Gaye’s family.”

Most of the people I floated this theory past said,”Naw, you’re paranoid. This isn’t what this case is about. This isn’t going to happen.”

“Yeah, but this is the Litigious States of America where people sue over everything. Won’t someone launch a suit in one of those lenient ex-Texas jurisdictions and hope to set capitalize on the ‘Blurred Lines’ precedent.”

“No,” they maintained. “It won’t be like that.”

Oh, yeah?  Let’s see what the BBC has to say.

People in the music industry are “getting paranoid about infringing copyright” after it was ruled that Blurred Lines “copied” another song, a leading forensic musicologist has told Newsbeat.

Peter Oxendale, who worked on the case, says his workload has increased so much he’s employed his son Jamie to help.

In March, a jury ruled Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had infringedMarvin Gaye hit Got To Give It Up. Gaye’s family was awarded $7.3m (£4.8m) in damages.

Peter says the verdict has made the whole music industry “worried”.

The case is still not fully resolved after an appeal from Pharrell’s team but Oxendale says the initial judgement was “appalling”.

“The Blurred lines outcome was an appalling decision. It was a jury trial in Los Angeles and they can always be difficult because a jury is asked to decide on technical facts.

“And often they are overwhelmed by the personalities involved.

“And in this case in Blurred Lines the verdict of the jury, in my opinion, was wrong on the facts. There’s no science to it.

“The songs… they have different structures, they have different underlying harmonies, they have different vocal melodies, they have entirely different lyrics.

“In fact, there are no two consecutive notes in the vocal melodies or even the bass lines that occur in the same place for the same duration.

“They are, by definition, different songs.”

He said that the songs are similar in “one respect… they have similar feels, similar vibes, similar grooves, but that’s not enough for an infringement”.

“A jury can say the sky is green but that doesn’t mean it is.”

And now it’s getting weird. Can you say “pre-emptive strikes?”

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 “I Called It: The “Blurred Lines” Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Has Made the Music Industry Paranoid

  • October 15, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Self-serving (“I called it”) and Irresponsible reporting.

    First, Mr. Oxendale was HIRED and PAID to say there were no similarities between the songs. He was an expert on the losing side of the case, and as such it is no surprise he would now bash the ruling, insult the jury, and claim this was a total travesty.

    Second, there hasn’t been an appeal filed in the case, meaning you and Oxendale both get points taken off for falsity since you’ve reprinted his incorrect quotes.

    Third, if the jury was so wrong, and this case should never have gone anywhere, then who cares how many “ambulance-chasing lawyers” are out there trying to build cases? According to you, those cases, if they’re anything like this one, will all be losers, and so the music industry will suffer absolutely no ill effects at all. You have nothing to worry about, contrary to your claim that the whole music industry is going to suffer.

    Fourth, Oxendale’s claim in the article you link to that he is now having to deal with these poor fearful artists is bunk. Anyone who knows anything at all about the industry knows that artists and labels have whole teams of lawyers whose job it is to “clear” music for potential copyright violations. What Oxendale is saying is this new flood of business due to the “Blurred Lines” case isn’t new at all – maybe he’s just getting more of it now because he’s latched onto the publicity of the case.

    Finally, your quote “We should sue! It worked for Marvin Gaye’s family!” is also garbage, and you obviously haven’t taken the time to learn the case. The Gaye family didn’t sue – they were sued by Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke, and Universal FIRST. At the time, there was tremendous public buzz on the internet and on talk shows that the two songs sounded very much alike, and so Williams, Thicke, and Universal sued the Gaye family for a declaration from the court that the songs were not alike. This verdict resulted from the Gayes having to DEFEND the lawsuit. So perhaps what you should be reporting on is whether it’s responsible for a giant label and two hugely popular celebrities to go around suing copyright owners because they’re worried that they’ve stolen someone else’s song.

    • October 15, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Regardless of how the “Blurred Lines” appeal turns out (should there be one), there’s still many within the music industry who are terrified of litigation based on the apparent precedent set by this trial. That was my point.

  • October 15, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    GREAT response C Adams,I fully agree.. Mr. Cross, I totally agree with your overly dramatic “sky is falling” prediction. As someone who has practiced entertainment law and tried infringement actions, I can tell you that this verdict has absolutely no effect on the creative community i Nashville and, furthermore, was the correct decision. If you want a truly balanced article, you should try including some of the comments from the Plaintiff’s experts as well. I’ve done that in my analysis of the verdict here:

    In this case, the Plaintiff successfully proved all the elements of infringement, ownership, access and misappropriation. The “spin” that the defendant’s attorney puts on the case, i.e., that it was all about reproducing a “genre” is just that, and the plaintiff’s witnesses effectively showed that Thicke instructed Williams to produce a song that sounded like the original, and he effectively did that. That’s pure access, and of course, intent. So it was more than a tribute to Marvin Gaye and his style of music it was a direct copy. That is infringement. .

    Anyone who is concerned with being sued for infringing has a very simple solution – don’t copy substantial portions of someone else’s creation. It really is as easy at that. The creatives I know in the industry fully understand and appreciate that, and have no concerns!


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