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The “Blurred Lines”/”Got to Give It Up” Verdict: The Legal Fallout Begins. Be Afraid. Very Afraid.

I told you this was going to happen.

When the verdict came down that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were guilty of some kind of weird plagiarism with “Blurred Lines” regarding Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” I wrote that the implications would extend far beyond just these two songs. If it was legally wrong to copy the “feel” of a song–even if the song was an homage to the original–a whole new can of worms was being opened.

Ambulance chasing lawyers are now free to reach out to older acts with pitches such as “Hey, you know that hit single, “[blank]?” Don’t you think it sounds too much one of your old songs? What do you say we put a legal squeeze on the rights holders and threaten them with a lawsuit like the Gaye family and see what we can shake out of ’em? And we’ll go to East Texas where juries are generous.” In other words, the musical equivalent of the silly patent troll tactics we see in the US, which is stifling innovation with legal chill.

Attention estate of Bo Diddley! Go get ’em! Same with you, Chuck Berry.  James Brown’s people: think how much James’ songs have been sampled throughout not just hip hop but all through music. And Buddy Holly’s estate might want to have a chat with his biggest fans, The Beatles. Hell, the very name “Beatles” is a play on “Crickets,” the name of Buddy’s band.

I brought this up to a number of people and the reaction was “Nah. No precedents here. Move along. Nothing to see.”

Oh, really?  Then explain this.

The biggest song of the last nine months has been “Uptown Funk” from Mark Ronson. Ten million downloads, more than half a billion YouTube views, tens of millions of streams. Proceeds have gone to the six people credited with writing the track: Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars,  Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Nicholas Williams and Devon Gallaspy. However, very, very quietly, five more writers have been added to the credits: Charlie Wilson, Robert Wilson, Ronnie Wilson, Rudolph Taylor and Lonnie Simmons.

Who are they? Members of The Gap Band along with a keyboardist and a producer. Why? Because this…

…has too much DNA from “Oops Upside Your Head.”

“Uptown Funk” now officially has eleven composers. Billboard outlines who gets paid for what.

I went back and forth between the two songs and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the deal is. Maybe there are some similarities [UPDATE: It was something to do with a “sampling interpolation”–whatever that is], enough to warrant the original songwriters to insist that the credits on the song be shared.

There was no lawsuit, no trial. This is obviously the result of some backroom discussions in order to keep things from blowing up in an ugly, ugly way. Makes you wonder what other deals are being cut out of desperation these days, doesn’t it?

Again, I told you so. And it’s just started.

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 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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