By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/25/18 – In 2013, popular party hit “Blurred Lines” was a controversial party hit. While the lyrics caused uproar for their apparent endorsement of rape culture, it’s the music that is currently making headlines. In a 2-1 decision, a 9th circuit Court of Appeals panel of judged upheld a jury’s verdict that “Blurred Lines” infringed on Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”.
Pharrell and Robin Thicke are now liable for 5.3m in damages. T.I., while featured on the song, was ruled not liable because he was not directly involved in the composition of the song.
The ruling has sent shock waves through the music industry, sparking fear that the line between creative inspiration and copyright infringement is now blurred.
Judge Nguyen wrote in dissent that the two songs “differ in melody, harmony and rhythm. Yet by refusing to compare the two works, the majority establishes a dangerous precedent that strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere.”
- J. Michael Keyes, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, within its California with extensive trial and litigation experience in cases involving trademarks, copyrights, unfair competition and false advertising, said,
“Upholding the jury’s verdict (and the ultimate damage award) could very well mean we see a new wave of additional music infringement lawsuits and claims. The 9th Circuit majority decision was quite explicit in opining that musical works receive broad protection and that “there is no one magical combination of factors that will automatically substantiate a musical infringement suit.”
A similar case appearing before the 9th circuit court of appeals is the band Spirit’s suit of Led Zeppelin, which alleges “Stairway to Heaven” is in copyright violation. Whether or not the scope of copyright extends to the finished audio product of a song or only the sheet music submitted to the copyright office is directly at issue, one not resolved the “Blurred Lines” case.
As Keyes states, “ The trial court ruled that the scope of Gaye’s copyright protection was limited to the sheet music because that is what was submitted to the Copyright Office and what was ultimately registered. The 9th Circuit assumed, without deciding the issue, that the trial court made the correct decision. We will need to wait and see how the court deals with this same theme in the Stairway to Heaven case.”
The music industry has always been a source of precedent setting lawsuits, from copyright to artistic freedom to streaming and royalties. As the music industry changes, the “Blurred Lines” case will set precedent for years to come, remaining as controversial as when the song was first released.
Yet in the court of public opinion, the song remains a chart -topping party hit that reminds the world sex doesn’t have to be consensual to sell.