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The Blurred Lines Controversy & Trial

We all know of the highly controversial song ‘Blurred Lines’ that made its breakthrough in 2013. As rumors and accusations arose, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams decided to launch a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief that “Blurred Lines” wasn’t a copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” However, their plan ended up majorly backfiring on them as the Gaye family countersued.

 

And so the 2-year legal battle began.

 

Although the two songs differ in lyrics, two factors of song production were taken into consideration. First was the sound recording, which is the license needed for the actual song. Second was the musical composition–which is the license that has to be paid in order to cover everything from the people who wrote the song, to the people who manipulate the composition of the song itself (so if an artist covers a song, the people who made that song possible still get paid).

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Marvin Gaye (Mojo Music)

The Gaye family argued that Thicke had stolen the musical composition, meaning that Gaye’s voice, the percussion, and the backing vocalists could not be considered in this trial. The music of the song that Gaye originally wrote could be considered–the sheet music being the only piece of copyright infringement. The family couldn’t play the recordings side-by-side in the trial because the performances of the songs might sway the jury. But eventually, the Gaye family was allowed to play a stripped-down version of the song for the jury to listen to.

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Suited Up: Robin Thicke (Left) and Pharrell Williams (Right) both made court appearances in hopes to defend their work. Both their outfits look like they’re about to go on the red carpet though — just look at Pharrell’s sunglasses! (David Buchan / Getty Images) 

The highly publicized trial was dramatic from the start, with Thicke and Williams both appearing in court in defense of their ostensibly original work. In April 2014, Thicke confessed to rampant drug use during the writing and recording of “Blurred Lines,” and claimed he had little to do with the song’s creation.

On March 10, 2015, the jury came to the final verdict: Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were found guilty and had to pay $7.3 million to Marvin Gaye’s family for copyright infringement.

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From Beginning Till The End: The trio’s music video, although admittedly catchy, stirred controversy from the start for its suggestive lyrics, as well as their rather racy music video. (Interscope Records)

The two singers and rapper, T.I. released a formal statement to the public regarding the final verdict that read:

While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward. Blurred Lines was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.


It is a fact
that these overlaps in music happen fairly often. However, this was simply a highly publicized case. In all likelihood, this ruling won’t change the music industry as this is not a major change to the copyright law or an attempt to change any production ways. This case stands alone as one civil case and not a a domino in a line of falling ones.

Check it out for yourselves, do you think there was a clear copyright infringement? Comment below!

– Hyun Jung Choi (’16)

Captions: Faith Choi (’16)
Header: Interscope Records

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