Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to Pay $7.3M for Copyright Infringement

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 5.49.36 PM

The Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye copyright infringement case has been decided. A Los Angeles jury decided that Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ “Blurred Lines” infringes on Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”. T.I. was also named in the lawsuit, but was not found guilty of infringement.

Thicke and Williams have been ordered to pay $7.3 million to Marvin Gaye’s estate. The Gaye family lawyer, Richard Busch, will also try and stop sales of “Blurred Lines”.

Predictably, Thicke and Williams aren’t happy and plan to fight the ruling. Pharrell Williams’ spokesperson told TheWrap:

“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.”

Looks like Robin Thicke jumped the gun when he filed the first lawsuit in this disagreement.

 

Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more: @nine_u

38 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I really, really believe in copyright and I’m certainly not a Thicke fan, but this is not infringement.

    They didn’t copy any melodic material — and you just can’t copyright a tempo, or a bass sound (as opposed to a bass line), or a generic rhythm.

    Reply
    • Sarah

      I really, really believe in copyright and I’m not a Thicke fan (but the song is catchy). But I hear enough similarity to concern me – I see why a jury made this call, especially if they weren’t predominantly trained musicians.

      But maybe this is a good example of why a jury in a case like this should consist of musicians who have a better understanding and can perform a better analysis/comparison of the two works, not just ordinary people.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        “But I hear enough similarity to concern me”

        Let me play a thousand reggae/blues/rock songs for you…

        “I see why a jury made this call”

        So do I: They don’t like Thicke. They think he is kind of gross.

        Reply
        • Sarah

          He is kind of gross. But after considering other comments, I really think the jury for a case about analyzing the similarity between two songs should have been trained musicians.

          Reply
        • Sarah

          He’s not my cup of tea either, but to each his own. But after considering other comments, I really think the jury for a case about analyzing the similarity between two songs should have been trained musicians.

          Reply
          • Sarah

            Oops. Stupid commenting on an iPhone, sorry about the double post (and yes, I did rephrase to be more tactful when it said the first comment didn’t go through). 🙂

          • Anonymous

            🙂 I think you can edit/delete comments when you’re logged in?

    • Paul Lanning

      Whoever produced TheTime’s records back in the 80s could/should use this ruling as the basis for a suit against Mark Ronson for Uptown Funk.

      Reply
      • Big Swifty

        I agree and every time I hear that song on the radio I think the same thing…..however I’m old and have teen and preteen kids. When I play Jungle Love by Morris Day my kids don’t hear the similarity at all and think I’m crazy

        Reply
  2. The Ripper

    A rip is a rip is a ripper is Jack the Ripper ………….whether unconciously or conciously the rip is there and unless you are living on another planet it is utter horse dung that Thicke and Williams should get away with it.

    Lets all be real and acknowledge the greatness of a song that imbeds in the DNA of your minds and thats what we all want to have happen as song writers.

    Unfortunately for Thicke and Williams they are up against the one and ONLY Marvin Gaye ………and his musical DNA is cast all over the planet in the subconscious of the windmills of our minds.

    I am sure when Thicke and Williams sit back with their false teeth hanging from their jaws ……that they will have their own works ripped for now it is Marvin Gaye and Co 1 ………….VISTORS ….NIL

    Reply
  3. JTVDigital

    After listening to the 2 versions, yes it goes further than a simple “inspiration”, it is a case of plagiarism (it happens very frequently, there is nothing to scream about), and you don’t need to be a music expert to hear the same rythmic pattern, percussive elements and a similar bassline (at least the feel is very similar) were used.
    Lesson learned hopefully, next time they take some inspiration from a pre-existing song, they may be more subtle in the way it’s done / produced.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      “rythmic pattern, percussive elements”

      …which can’t be copyrighted.

      “and a similar bassline”

      Except it’s not — are you sure you know what a bass line is?

      Reply
      • JTVDigital

        Ok I will rephrase. There is a similarity, yes it can not be copyrighted however it seems like the case was judged by a “jury”, not music experts.
        Basically, random people are asked if these songs sound the same / are similar and they say yes.
        Which is the case, the intro is extremely close.
        Yes I know what a bassline is, thank you – the key is the same, the rythmic placement of the notes is very very close; the melodic line slightly differs but an untrained ear can certainly not hear any difference.
        Which is the reason for this verdict (I guess), people don’t listen to music as a musician would do, not because they are stupid or anything, but because their ears haven’t been trained, they are simply not able to analyze the details.
        What this case says is that for a non-musician (a vast majority of people) these songs are the same.
        But there will be an appeal and this decision will certainly be reversed.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          “people don’t listen to music as a musician would do, not because they are stupid or anything, but because their ears haven’t been trained, they are simply not able to analyze the details”

          You’re right about that, but that’s where the musicologists step in.

          “But there will be an appeal and this decision will certainly be reversed.”

          Indeed. Nobody wants to live with the consequences of this. Chuck Berry could sue the world. 🙁

          Reply
        • GGG

          Well, presumably both sides brought in experts to explain their side, why it is and why it’s not similar. So the jury wouldn’t really need to understand, they just base it on whichever expert makes a better argument.

          Reply
  4. Greg

    They got this right. Complete copyright infringement, period. They should have cleared it prior to release and paid a fee and royalty on sales, and this would not have happened.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      “Complete copyright infringement, period”

      Care to explain why? You can’t copyright a style, a mood or a basic rhythmic pattern.

      Reply
  5. David

    If the decision were just based on audible similarity, I don’t think it would be strong enough. But from what I have read about the case, Williams and Thicke cooked their own goose by admitting some intention to imitate Marvin Gaye. Plus, the jury probably weren’t too impressed by Thicke saying he didn’t really co-write the song at all. As for the ‘terrible precedent’, a jury decision doesn’t legally set any precedent at all. Judges rule on law, juries rule on the facts of the particular case. But I dare say a few songwriters will be looking anxiously over their shoulders. Jagger/Richards would have a pretty strong case on Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’: https://soundcloud.com/rolling-stones_mashup_set/2-adele-vs-rolling-stones
    BTW, the idea that there is no copyright in a ‘rhythmic element’ is just an urban myth, though no doubt it would usually be difficult to prove copying from a particular source.

    Reply
  6. Irving Mindreader

    Here’s what the jury wasn’t told, and obviously didn’t consider :

    By this new litmus, there isn’t a song that’s been written in the last 30 years that couldn’t be found to infringe on another.

    All that’s missing (for the moment) is the technical means to reveal the song-to-song relationships.

    Penny wise, pound foolish verdict.

    Reply
    • Sarah

      That’s a good point. But addressing that should not be done by the jury. if the jury thought there was infringement and nevertheless decided to find against it for policy reasons, that’d be troublesome.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      “By this new litmus, there isn’t a song that’s been written in the last 30 years that couldn’t be found to infringe on another.”

      Make that 60.

      Reply
      • Paul Resnikoff
        Paul Resnikoff

        This is starting to look a lot like patent trolling. There exists a firm, finite amount of different melodies, rhythms, and even instruments that can be used within modern Western music, especially pop music. I find it hard to imagine a world in which many of these songs aren’t similar.

        I wonder whether the defense was as creative as they could have been. I was in a meeting two weeks ago, and I found out that there’s a German firm that has actually developed software that can match any existing, modern pop melody to a classical work. The result? There isn’t anything written these days that isn’t already in a classical piece somewhere, which means it’s in the public domain.

        Using software systems like those employed by Shazam, I’d bet that there are dozens of songs that also sound very similar to Gaye’s piece. In fact, I’d bet there are clusters of dozens of songs that all sound shockingly similar. It’s all in the data, and it’s measurable and quantifiable now.

        Did Marvin Gaye write on some secluded island, free of musical influence? Of course not. He has his influences like everyone else. And a rich, centuries old evolution of music leading up to the musical awakening of Gaye informed everything he wrote.

        Reply
        • Bandit

          A lot of people don’t realize that the plaintiff in a copyright infringement case must show that defendant had access to the prior work and actually heard the prior work.

          So it doesn’t matter if there are hundreds of songs out there that sound identical to a new song. If defendant never heard the pre-existing song no infringement.

          That’s why it doesn’t matter if some tech geek wrote a program that reproduced all possible melodys or some lab scientist gives a million pianos to a million monkeys and says get to work

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            “the plaintiff in a copyright infringement case must show that defendant had access to the prior work and actually heard the prior work”

            That defense was pretty much destroyed with the internet.

          • Bandit

            How do you prove defendant heard the song?

            Subpoena Internet browsing records?

            Brow beat them in court until defendant confesses it in court just like they do on TV law shows?

        • Anonymous

          “I was in a meeting two weeks ago, and I found out that there’s a German firm that has actually developed software that can match any existing, modern pop melody to a classical work”

          It all started with an old-fashioned analog book called A Dictionary of Musical Themes (Barlow and Morgenstern). Many songwriters still use it today (or its digital equivalent(s)).

          But here’s the thing: You won’t find any Beatles melody or any other great contemporary tune in it. As soon as you go beyond 6 or 7 (and especially 8) consecutive notes, all similarities disappear. So there is some truth in the “8 note myth”.

          Not that it matters when it comes to non-melodic stuff like this…

          Reply
  7. Music Lawyer

    Sarah, JTV Digital, et. al. who have suggested this case shouldn’t have been decided by a jury and should have been decided by music experts:

    100%, completely and totally wrong.

    Music copyright cases aren’t decided by a music expert.

    Here’s why:

    Because the entire point of copyright protection for a song, whether it deserves copyright protection, or whether some other work is similar enough to it to be infringing, is what what is perceived by the “average listener.” That’s who Thicke and WIlliams are hoping will find the song unique and that’s who the Gaye estate is saying would think the song is Gaye’s, so, that’s the test.

    Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke weren’t selling records to musicologists. They were selling records to the public. Copyright is available to creations that average people would find unique. Copyright is not dependent on musicologists or other experts to determine that the works are sufficiently unique. It’s based on what the average consumer would think.

    Reply
    • JTVDigital

      Hum this is not what I said Mr Music Lawyer 🙂
      I said since the jury is apparently composed from “non-experts” there is nothing surprising in the decision and that for “random people” (what you call “the public” or “average listeners”) these songs are the same.
      Which is totally fine, there is a clear similarity.
      If I listen to the song as an average listener I will agree to say this is plagiarism. If I listen to the song as a musician I won’t (or at least not completely, it is “very close” but somehow different).
      My question/guess was, if there is an appeal where musicologists / experts (whatever we name people able to anayze musical details) are asked the same question, the result will certainly differ, since technically the songs are different.
      Here in France songwriters/publishers usually do not need to go to court for resolving these questions (it happens but it is rare) since they are all represented by the same entity (collecting society Sacem) who will always try to find a reasonable solution to mitigate any dispute amongst its members.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      “It’s based on what the average consumer would think”

      The average consumer thinks blues songs are similar if they’re in the same key. That’s why musicologists are essential in cases like this…

      Reply
    • Sarah

      Yes, the perception of the average listener is the test, I understand how it currently works. Obviously I would never suggest that a case should somehow not be decided according to established procedures and law; I would (and do) suggest that a particular case may illustrate a need to modify those established procedures and laws.

      Maybe that test is no longer appropriate or sufficient, given the sheer volume of music that now exists (which means the chances of similarities go up dramatically). Changing to some other trial-level analysis, perhaps one that starts with the average listener finding similarity and then goes to a second evaluation by musicologists, might be more efficient and less costly than setting a precedent that consistently gets music cases sent to appeal. But that’s a normative suggestion; there’s no argument over why this one actually came out the way it did.

      Reply
  8. Big Swifty

    When a decision is left to the jury anything can happen. Ask any trial lawyer.

    The decision will be appealed and losing party will claim that jury didn’t follow instructions on the law and failed to apply the law to the facts.

    Reply
    • Sarah

      Probably. Even if it isn’t appealed, this is just a verdict in a district court… which means that it can influence future cases, but it isn’t determinative. In other words, if it is a bad decision (and it sounds like it probably is), the only one necessarily screwed by it is Thicke et al., and future cases will probably not follow the same path.

      In fact, the scrutiny on this case (and there is and will plenty by copyright lawyers) may make it more likely that the next copyright case like this results in a better outcome.

      Reply
  9. Chris H

    Somewhere, Billy Gibbons is very happy that he was sued in a different era, with different results. Lenny Kravitz must just be waiting by the mailbox for summons.

    This case to me, melodic elements aside, was a case of what the boundaries are on a sound alike. Obviously, with the “whoa” sounds in the opening moments of the song, which are so signature to Marvin Gaye, to the casual ear.

    Reply
  10. Maurice Oliver

    Thicke saying he didn’t really co-write the song? “I just sang the song and took the money. I was high at the and I really don’t remember? Yeah that’s me in the video! Oops!”
    Really they didn’t want to settle, when they knew the shit would hit the fan one day.
    That’s what lawyers are for!! Greedy!

    Reply
  11. Voicedude

    The court case that shook the music industry! And a few others…
    NEW VOICEDUDE: “Legal Lines Won’t Back Down” * Robin Thicke & Pharrell V Tom Petty V Vanilla Ice V The Beatles V Johnny Cash V Ray Parker Jr. V The Chiffons V Steve Winwood V Marvin Gaye V Shorty Long * https://hearthis.at/4DVwKd6r/legal-lines-wont-back-down/ ‪#‎BlurredLines‬ ‪#‎Settlement‬ ‪#‎StayWithMe‬ ‪#‎MySweetHesSoFine‬

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Verify Your Humanity *