blurred lines copyright

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams Appeal Copyright Case of Marvin Gaye

Blurred Lines and Copyright

When it comes to copyright law, the question of infringement does not always result in a clear answer. In fact, determining infringement is an incredibly difficult question. This is probably because, when it comes to songwriting, infringement exists when songs sound too similar. The terminology employed most often by judges is to question whether there exists a likelihood of confusion. What this boils down to in the context of songwriting is a legal dispute over whether the audience would find that the songs sound alike. Of course, the matter is complicated by the fact that many copyright disputes involve songs that most people would not actually “confuse” for each other, yet infringement still exists. In the music world the examination of similarity involves technical evidence of chords and notes more often than people actually claiming that the songs sound just alike. Music artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams recently learned this lesson the hard way, to the tune of $7.4 million.

The Confusion       

Artist Marvin Gayes family, through attorney Richard Busch, brought suit against Thicke and Pharrell regarding their $16 million song Blurred Lines. The family alleged that Thicke and Pharrells song was infringing on their copyright interest in Marvin Gayes 1977 hit Got to Give It Up. The suit was brought in a California federal court and the trial lasted for eight days. Ultimately, the jury determined that Blurred Lines met the legal definition of copyright infringement of the Gayes interest. The jury did find that the infringement was not willful. With that in mind the duo was ordered to pay $4 million in copyright infringement damages plus profits that were earned due to the infringement. After the verdict Busch announced that the family would be seeking an injunction a court order declaring that a party must act a certain way  stating that the song could no longer be sold or distributed.

The Oddities           

What makes this case so unusual is that it actually went to trial. The case was taken to trial by two highly esteemed copyright law litigators  Richard Busch for the Gaye Family and Howard King for Williams and Thicke. The court systems see innumerable amounts of complaints each year seeking to sue for copyright infringement. The most general result is that the suits don’t make it past the summary judgment phase. In the legal world this means the plaintiffs didn’t have a leg to stand on. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the disputes that are fairly high profile. (For example Tom Pettys recent suit against Sam Smiths Stay With Me.) These cases are right on the money but rarely ever go to trial. Why? They settle. Where there is a clear violation of copyright expenses, experienced lawyers know better than to take the case to a jury. Here, however, both of the experienced lawyers were prepared to go in front of a jury.

 

King has publicly stated that he will appeal the decision, boldly professing that, We owe it to songwriters around the world to make sure that this verdict doesn’t stand. Our team at Brownstone Law wishes all three artists the best of luck in this confusion conundrum.

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