Copyright Law – Marvin Gaye family gets to go to trial vs. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over Blurred Lines

Blurred Lines, that song of 350 million youtube views and counting, is claimed by Marvin Gaye’s family to be an infringement of the copyright to the Marvin Gaye song Got to Give it Up (click here for a video of Got to Give it Up and here for a mash-up of the two songs).

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, who along with Clifford Harris, Jr., composed Blurred Lines, are in a battle with the Gaye Family in the US District Court in Los Angeles on this copyright issue (the lawsuit can be viewed here).  Thicke/Williams filed a motion for summary judgment, which is asking to court to rule that a trial was not necessary because it was so clear that they should win.  That is a tough standard, and so it is not a total surprise that the judge denied the motion.  Therefore, the Gaye family can go to trial on their claims.

To establish copyright infringement, a copyright holder must show ownership of a valid copyright and copying of elements of the work that are original.  Since direct evidence of an intent to copy is usually not available, a copyright holder can show copying by showing the alleged infringer had access to plaintiff’s work and that the two works are substantially similar in idea and in expression of the idea.

Got to Give It Up is a well-known song, there is no dispute Thicke/Williams had access to the song.  The ownership of the copyrights is not being contested.  So the main issue is whether the two songs are substantially similar.

The court first ruled that for purposes of this motion, the copyright is limited to the lead sheets, aka sheet music, that was originally submitted to the copyright office, excluding elements in the final recording such as the party noise and falsetto singing and the sounds of the instruments.

Regarding the similarity of the two songs, the two sides between them hired musicologists that examined the elements of the songs.  The Gaye expert contended there were substantial similarities in things like the signature phrase in main vocal melodies, hooks, hooks with backup vocals, core them, backup hooks, bass melodies, keyboard parts, and unusual percussion choices.  The Thicke/Williams expert disagreed with these contentions.  After extensive analysis of the sheet music, the court ruled a trial was needed to see who was right.

For more on this case, see this Hollywood Reporter article, which has attached a copy of the court order denying the motion for summary judgment.

© 2014, LT Pacific Law Group LLP. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Copyright Law. Bookmark the permalink.