Showing posts with label Marvin Gaye. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marvin Gaye. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ironically, "Blurred Lines" of Copyright Law Lead to Litigation

Summer 2013's hottest pop single "Blurred Lines" has become quite a phenomenon.  Its primary vocalist and author, Robin Thicke is the son of Alan Thicke, of the popular family television sitcom Growing Pains.

The song features controversial lyrics about the lack of clear boundaries that have been called "rapey" by feminists, as well as an R-rated music video. The video for the song was released on March 20, 2013, and was made in two versions; the first video features models Emily Ratajkowski, Jessi M'Bengue, and Elle Evans being topless, the second features them covered.

The covered version on YouTube (embedded above) has reached nearly 138 million views. However, the topless, R-rated version of the video was removed from YouTube on March 30, 2013, for violating the site's terms of service regarding nudity.  On, the R-rated version has reached nearly 11 million views.

The song itself has been a worldwide hit, topping the charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom, as well as the top ten in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, France, Iceland, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. As of July 17, 2013, it is the second best-selling single of 2013 in the UK.

The song features a catchy beat and chorus, clearly reminiscient of Marvin Gaye's 1977 classic "Got to Give it Up":

Thicke apparently admires Marvin Gaye's style and music, and went so far as to admit that it inspired him in this instance, but denied overtly sampling Gaye's musical compositions when writing Blurred Lines.

When asked by Yahoo! Music's Billy Johnson Jr. about the notable similarities between "Blurred Lines" and Gaye's song, Thicke said "[t]here is no sample." But he admitted, "[d]efinitely inspired by that, yeah.  All of his music ... he's one of my idols."

Sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.

Hearing the similarity and likely believing that Gaye's music was sampled without permission, Gaye's family apparently demanded a royalty from Thicke and his co-authors, which they refused to pay.

After reaching an impasse, Thicke and his co-authors pulled the trigger first, suing Gaye's family in federal district court in California this week, seeking a declaratory judgment that the song does not infringe upon Gaye's copyrights.

“There are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements,” the suit contends. “Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else’s composition.”

Invocation of declaratory judgment jurisdiction is typical when it becomes clear that suit is inevitable, and when an actual case or controversy exists between the parties, based upon the totality of the circumstances.  Assuming Gaye's family asserted a clear claim of copyright infringement and demanded a royalty, and assuming that no ongoing discussions were occurring, Thicke may have been entitled to file a preemptive suit first.

Procedural wrangling aside, in any event, the underlying legal test remains the same. Did Thicke and his co-authors cross the line from inspiration to infringement?

Ironically, that line is rather blurry in this instance.

Sampling an identifiable and substantial portion of Gaye's song would likely lead to a finding of copyright infringement. Thicke has (so far) expressly denied that any form of sampling whatsoever occurred, claiming that the similarities were from simply borrowing "commonplace musical elements."  That distinction is a matter of degree, and will depend upon a close comparison of the two songs.