So “Blurred Lines” Has Been Declared a Ripoff of “Got to Give It Up.” Now What?

In case you missed the verdict yesterday, a jury declared the Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams song “Blurred Lines” to have infringed upon Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give It Up.” The judge awarded the Gaye estate $3.4 in profits from the song and another $4 million in damages.

Before we proceed, let’s note the following:

  • Even though Robin Thicke gets a songwriting credit, he admits to not being present when the song was written because he was too drunk and high on Vicodin. That’ll learn him.
  • Pharrell admitted to being inspired by “Got to Give It Up” and wrote “Blurred Lines” with the same feel–a homage, if you will.  His song features no samples from the original.
  • However, one of musicologists brought into court testified that there are at least eight glaring similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up.”
  • In a very weird ruling, the judge allowed the jurors to hear “Blurred Lines” in court several times yet refused to allow the commercial recording of “Got to Get It Up” to be heard. Instead, all the jurors heard were versions rendered from a sheet music version of the song. That’s right: “Blurred Lines” was heard in court, straight from the record while “Got to Give It Up” was not.

The best account of the trial comes from Pamela Chelin, who, unlike most of the people reporting on the case, was in the courtroom every single day. She and I have discussed the case and are split on where this leaves us. I, like Pharrell’s people say that this ruling sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to creativity. If you can’t write a song in the style of [blank], where does that leave us? The Beatles could sue most of the known universe for this sort of “infringement.” Meanwhile, Pamela spoke a number of high-powered lawyers and they maintain that this ruling will do nothing of a sort. She appears at 1:54 into this piece she taped for Today.

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I will agree that “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” are very similar in feel.  But why wasn’t this settled out of court like so many other cases of sonic coincidences? The Sam Smith/Tom Petty one was. These sorts of things happen all the time and almost none of them ever, every go to court.

Bottom line, though, is that there seems to be a line.  Where is it? When does something go from homage to ripoff?  How much did the fact that “Blurred Lines” was a huge hit figure in the Gaye family’s decision to sue? (Hint: EVERYTHING.)

Consider the following video.

Expect this one to be tied up in appeals for a long, long time.

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.

3 thoughts on “So “Blurred Lines” Has Been Declared a Ripoff of “Got to Give It Up.” Now What?

  • March 11, 2015 at 1:38 pm
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    When I first heard Blurred Lines on the radio, I mistook it for Got to Give it Up. There is a difference between inspired or reminiscent ie. Oasis to outright thievery line per line. Pharrell and Thicke’s mistake was not acknowledging and crediting where credit is due and hoping no one would notice. They should have just “given up” some credit and maybe all things would pass.

    Reply
  • March 11, 2015 at 4:39 pm
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    At first I thought Wrecking Ball was a rip off of some Bon Jovi power ballad. Shows you the sad state of our culture when greed comes into the equation for one of humanities basic needs, music. Cost fucked the music industry. All music should be free

    Reply
  • March 11, 2015 at 8:45 pm
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    I’m with the defence on this one: you can’t copyright a groove. The melodies are not the same and the similar bass lines are too simplistic for anyone to claim authorship. I can understand the jury sympathizing with the Gaye family, but this one will be appealed and probably successfully.

    Reply

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