Robin Thicke, Pharrell lose $7.3 million ‘Blurred Lines’ lawsuit
In what was a relatively quick decision, a team of eight jurors ruled in favor of the family of Marvin Gaye, ruling that the late singers’ copyrights had been violated by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams on the formers runaway hit, “Blurred Lines.”
Awarding the Gaye family a staggering $7.3 million in damages, while the jury has ruled, this precedent-setting case is far from over. In fact, the estate of Gaye has already stated it is their intention to halt all future sales of “Blurred Lines” until a new agreement can be reached.
The real question many are wondering is whether or not the Thicke song in question actually plagiarized the 1977 track by Gaye. A quick listen will allow even the most unaware of music fans to hear slight similarities, most noticeably in the rhythm section. The cow bell rhythm and the bassline certainly bear a strong resemblance to one another, but it’s hardly as blatant as something like Vanilla Ice’s rip off of Queen.
It is this differentiation that is the key to the case and now answers the question: is inspiration as much a violation as copying? According to the jury and judge, the answer is yes. Throughout the process, both Thicke and Williams have admitted to being inspired by the sound of the late 70’s, and that it was more about the feel of the song than actually pointing to a specific track as the source of the sound. During the trial, it was also shown how songs by the likes of Michael Jackson and The Beatles also bear resemblance to the Gaye track, and this was in many ways the core of their argument.
The case itself is amazingly complex, as there had already been rulings that supported the Gaye family side, like when EMI settled out of court with the family over accusations of not properly protecting the song “Got To Give It Up” and it was implied that this was because EMI had become part of the company that also owned Thicke’s music. Combined with inconsistences in statements made over the past two years by Thicke himself, as well as the fact that there is a decent amount of similarity between the songs, the result is not all that surprising. The awarded amount however, is quite literally record setting.
The last large-money case like this was when Michael Bolton was ordered to pay $5.4 million to the Isley Brothers over his own 2005 song “Love Is A Wonderful Thing.” Yet given the fact that both Thicke and Pharrell took home well over $5 million each from the success of “Blurred Lines,” such a massive financial award is a bit more understandable. It’s also due to the fact that the song keeps selling that the Gaye estate wants to get in on current and future profits the song might earn.
Regardless of the final settlement numbers, many in the industry are understandably worried that this case will set a precedent for other “feel” similarities, and artists will find themselves in court in cases similar to “patent trolls.” While there is no question that artist works need to be protected, just how similar the two songs are remains up to debate, and one can only assume the “Blurred Lines” team will appeal the ruling.
Hear the two songs together and judge for yourself: