Marvin Gaye Vs Blurred Lines – Written By Laura Costello
The highly publicized verdict and the record high US $7.3 million dollars in damages awarded to the Gaye estate could have “a chilling effect on musicians who try to emulate an era or another artist’s sound”, warns Thicke and William’s lead attorney Howard King.
The lawyers for the late Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully argued that the writers “intentionally and unlawfully copied and assembled a constellation of distinctive and important elements from the musical composition, ‘Got to Give it Up’”. The Gaye estate originally sought US $25 million in damages for the similarities between Gaye’s 1977 hit and the popular ‘Blurred Lines’ performed by Thicke, Williams and T.I. The later, Grammy nominated hit has currently sold more than 7.3 million copies in the U.S alone and reports suggest has earned the three performers a combined amount of close to US $17 million.
The Los Angeles jury repeatedly heard both songs over the eight day trial in order to determine whether a copyright infringement had occurred, focusing on an analysis of the chords and notes present in both hits. Interestingly however, the copyright the Gaye estate sought to defend was based solely on sheet music, as consistent with US copyright laws at the time of the 1977 release. Therefore, the Gaye estate lawyers were only allowed to play a stripped down version of the song, consistent with the sheet music composition that had been submitted for copyright protection.
Whilst copyright law suits are common in the music industry, it is only on rare occasions that they reach trial. Most high-profile disputes of this nature are settled out of court, such as earlier this year between Tom Petty and popular newcomer Sam Smith over the hit ‘Stay with Me’. Despite the conclusion of the trial it appears that this dispute is still far from over. Following the verdict Mr. Busch, lead attorney for the Gaye family stated that he will be seeking an immediate injunction to halt the distribution and sale of the song. Thicke and William’s attorneys have also stated that it is likely that an appeal will be sought.
The verdict has divided copyright experts; influential intellectual property attorney Lawrence Iser argues that the verdict has “blurred the lines between protectable elements of a musical composition and the unprotectable musical style or groove exemplified by Marvin Gaye”. Regardless of criticisms the case remains an important reminder for all musicians (and a costly reminder for Williams and Thicke) of the blurred lines between artistic emulation and finding oneself liable for copyright infringement.