Who will face the Music? The Blurred Lines trial approaches

February 2015

Music Publishing


The lawsuit that alleges that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams borrowed heavily from the Marvin Gaye track ‘Got To Give It Up’ when creating ther somewhat controversial tune ‘Blurred Lines’ is set to go to court on February 10th. The complaint is based on the obvious similarities between the songs, and partly because Thicke once said of his hit in an interview: “I told Pharrell that one of my favourite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’. I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove’. Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it”. Thicke has also claimed that he’d been far too involved with drink and prescription drugs at the time to have given any such coherent instructions to his pop-making partner but both Thicke and Williams strongly deny the allegations of plagiarism.

The latest side debate was whether the jury should hear recordings of the Thicke/Williams song and Gaye’s track side by side. Representatives for the Gaye family favour of this, but lawyers for the ‘Blurred Lines’ twosome demanded that no such airing takes place. Their argument was based on the fact that the complaint alleges Thicke and Williams infringed the copyright in Gaye’s song – and NOT in the sound recording, and so if anything is looked at it should be the sheet music for Gaye’s piece;  the Defendants argued that where there are elements of ‘Blurred Lines’ that are very similar to ‘Got To Give It Up’, those elements are not part of Gaye’s formal composition, they are extra added in during the recording which are not – according to their interpretation of relevant U.S. copyright law – protected. To play a ‘Lines/Give It Up’ mash up, therefore, would be “unduly prejudicial” say lawyers, and “likely to confuse the issues, and likely to mislead the jury because numerous elements in the sound recordings… are not found in the deposit copy and hence are not probative of copying”. A compromise proposed by Thicke and Williams’ lawyers is that the core compositions of the two tracks be played on a keyboard in court. The Gaye family’s’ legal team are adamant both of the recordings should be played on the basis that: “The musical composition ‘Got To Give it Up’ was created simultaneously as it was being recorded. Thus, the musical composition of ‘Got To Give it Up’ in total is embodied in the sound recording. Therefore, the sound recording is the best evidence for what is included under the intrinsic test”. And the court decided that the compromise was the sensible approach, ruling that the core compositions of both songs should be played on a keyboard at the trial. The lawyer acting for the ‘Blurred Line’ team, Howard King, welcomed the ruling, saying: “A truly fair trial requires only a comparison of the compositions, not the sound recording which is not owned by the Gayes. Given the fact that the compositions have absolutely no substantial similarities, there is little chance the Gayes can prevail at trial or on any threatened appeal”.


https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6429548/marvin-gaye-blurred-lines-trial-robin-thicke-pharrell  and http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/6304062/judge-rejects-blurred-lines-suit-robin-thicke-pharrell-williams-marvin-gaye

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