Musicians Sign On in Support of Thicke, Pharrell

This probably won’t come as a big surprise, but a number of musicians have signed onto an amicus brief in support of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in the “Blurred Lines” case.

More than 200 musicians—212 to be exact—have signed their names to a 28-page brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, supporting Thick and Williams in their efforts to overturn a decision against them. They were found responsible for copyright infringement for “Blurred Lines,” which the family of Marvin Gaye says ripped off his song “Got to Give it Up.” Last year a judge ordered them to pay $5.3 million to the family.

The problem with the verdict, the musicians say, is the possible chilling effect it could have on artists of all stripes.

“The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works,” according to the brief, authored by Ed McPherson and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre. By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgement is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is.”

The brief further argues that the two songs in this particular case “do not have similar melodies; the two songs do not even share a single melodic phrase. In fact, the two works do not have a sequence of even two chords played in the same order and for the same duration. They have entirely different song structures (meaning how and where the verse, chorus, etc. are placed in the song), and do not share any lyrics. Quite clearly, the verdict in this case, if based upon the music at all, was based upon the jury’s perception that the overall ‘feel’ or ‘groove’ of the two works is similar, as songs of a particular genre often are. In essence, the appellants have been found liable for the infringement of an idea, or a series of ideas, and not for the tangible expression of those ideas,” as is mandated by previous copyright infringement rulings.

Signing the letter are, among many others, all four members of the Go-Gos, all six members of Linkin Park, Jason Mraz, Jennifer Hudson, all four members of Tool, Allan P. Grigg (aka KoOoLkOjAk),  Curt Smith of Tears for Fears, three members of Great White and dozens more.  It’s quite the list, featuring artists from a variety of genres.

It’s clear artists feel they have a lot to lose should the verdict against Thicke and Pharrell stand.

“One can only imagine what our music would have sounded like if David Bowie would have been afraid to draw from Shirley Bassey, or if the Beatles would have been afraid to draw from Chuck Berry, or if Elton John would have been afraid to draw from the Beatles, or if Elvis Presley would have been afraid to draw from his many influences,” the brief says.

There’s plenty of coverage on this letter; read more here, here and here.    

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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