By now you've probably heard the news about Robin Thicke's huge 2013 single "Blurred Lines" being the subject of a copyright lawsuit.
Thicke and his co-writer Pharrell Williams have lost the court case and are now required to hand US$7.3 Million to the family-run estate of Marvin Gaye, for ripping off Marvin's 70s hit "Got to Give It Up".
This case, in my view establishes a dangerous precedent. This wasn't a clean-cut case of outright stealing, as in, say the George Harrison "My Sweet Lord" case. This one was decided by a grand jury from the sheet music to one of the songs and a recording of the other. Without the aid of a blind listening test of the two recordings, that would have made things difficult. From that aspect alone, the jury's decision was a curious one.
I've taken a listen to both songs back to back. In my view, "Blurred Lines" is awfully derivative of the Marvin Gaye track, but while it cops the feel and part of the percussion style, it hardly steels any of the major aspects of the original. Besides, if you could copyright a rhythm and successfully defend it in a court of law, Bo Diddley would be a billionaire.
My question is, how can a piece that was clearly inspired by the original be pinged for plagiarism? This means that pretty soon Prince and/or Cameo should be suing Mark Ronson for "Uptown Funk".
According to this piece in the LA Weekly, the jury probably took a dislike to Robin Thicke which, in their estimation, is not a difficult thing to do. His defense seems to be that "although I received a writing credit, I didn't actually contribute to the writing of the song." Well, Mr Thicke, your name is on the official ASCAP document stating you as the writer, therefore you probably received royalties therefore you are also implicated in this. Suck it up, pal.
I always thought "Blurred Lines" was a horrible song anyway. However, all that aside, this could set up a precedent for a whole host of frivolous and ambiguous copyright lawsuits, based purely on one song bearing a passing similarity to another. Maybe Nirvana will actually get sued for borrowing the rhythm guitar pattern (not the chord sequence) from "More Than A Feeling" by Boston in their song "Smells Like Teen Spirit"...
If nothing else, this particular verdict will probably be appealed for years to come, so I doubt this is the end of it.
Take a listen to this mashup of the Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke tunes here: