Partial settlement of “Blurred Lines” copyright dispute but Thicke battles on…

February 2014

Music publishing, recorded music, artistes

Guest post by by Lale Kemal, solicitor


The copyright action brought by musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr (T.I.) against Marvin Gaye’s family and the owner of Funkadelic’s catalogue Bridgeport Music Inc (Bridgeport)  relating to the chart topping hit “Blurred Lines” has been partially settled.   Specifically, the Gaye family has settled its claim against Sony/ATV, owner of music publisher and producer of “Blurred Lines” EMI April.

The complaint was initially filed by Thicke and others in the Californian District Court in August 2013 in reaction to multiple claims made by the defendants that the song “Blurred Lines” had the same “feel” or “sound” as Marvin Gaye’s critically acclaimed track “Got to Give It Up” and Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways”. The plaintiffs claimed declaratory relief against the Gaye family and Bridgeport on the basis of their respective rights to the copyright in the songs. At all material times, the plaintiffs denied copyright infringement and use of elements of “Got to Give it Up” or “Sexy Ways” in “Blurred Lines”. The plaintiffs sought a declaration from the Court confirming that the track did not infringe either song or otherwise violate the Gaye family or Bridgeport’s rights. They also wanted confirmation of the family’s rights to the composition “Got to Give It Up” , in particular whether they were sufficient to allow them to pursue an infringement claim.

The Gaye family filed counterclaims for copyright infringement in October 2013 claiming the plaintiffs created “Blurred Lines” in order to take advantage of the “legend and utmost credibility of Marvin Gaye, and to drive sales”. The defendants suggested amongst other things, that there was more than a stylistic resemblance to Marvin Gaye’s No. 1 track “Got to Give it Up”. It was “substantially similar compositionally”. The family also claimed Thicke’s track “Love After War” infringed Marvin Gaye song “After The Dance”.

At the same time, the family brought an action against music publisher EMI April, owned by Sony/ATV. The claim primarily focused on breach of contract and breach of EMI’s fiduciary duty to uphold its assigned rights to the Marvin Gaye catalogue. As EMI owned certain rights to both artists’ portfolios, the Gaye family argued that EMI had failed to acknowledge that there was a conflict of interest; they suggested that EMI had failed to protect and defend its rights to the copyright in the songs “Got To Give It Up” and “After The Dance”  and had actively sought to prevent the Gaye family bringing a copyright infringement claim for fear of “ruining an incredible song (“Blurred Lines”)”.

The reasoning behind the settlement of the dispute between the Marvin Gaye family and Sony/ATV and the terms of the agreement have not been publicly released however this is a positive step towards resolving an increasingly complicated multi-party dispute. The case interestingly demonstrates the delicate balance record companies must achieve when managing both old and new high profile catalogues. We await further updates as to whether Thicke can reach a similar accord with the Marvin Gaye family. Should the matter proceed to trial, Sony/ATV will need to effectively maintain an objective stance between its two  top roster musicians.

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