The “Blurred Lines” Saga: May the Copyright Law Be Ever in Your Favor

Back in March, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams lost the multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against them by Marvin Gayee’s estate over “Blurred Lines.” His estate claimed that “Blurred Lines” inappropriately sampled Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” Though no actual notes were copies, the similarities in “genre and feel” led the jury to side with Gaye’s estate, awarding it $7.2 million.

Thicke and Williams appealed this decision in early December stating, “The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works. All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre.” Their key argument in the appeal is that, according to U.S. copyright law, only the song version submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office is protected. This would mean that any elements or earlier versions of a song would not be protected unless all were submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. As “genre and feel” are not protectable qualities, Thicke and Williams are hoping the Appellate Court will side with them.

Paul Phillips, an attorney representing Gaye’s estate, stated that the appeal was not a surprise and “only delays the inevitable,” as he believes the opposition’s case still lacks merit. Richard Busch, chief lawyer for Gaye’s family, submitted their opposition to the appeal this week. Busch argues that music should be protected as it was released rather than registered. He claims that countless musicians who did not know how to read or write notation would be “surprised to learn that their compositions are protected only to the extent that a transcriber happened to notate elements on a lead sheet”.

As both sides have presented their claims, we now wait until next year to see what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will decide!

Credit: Cristina Gabrielyan

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