The Sue Me, Sue You Blues and “Blurred Lines”

There are a lot of music—what? Not purists, exactly. And not scholars. I guess music…grouches—out there crowing about the recent ruling against Robin Thicke and Pharrell re: “Blurred Lines.” I love Marvin Gaye as much as the next guy and also believe artists should be compensated for their work, but this verdict is nonsense. And the scale of it borders on dangerous.

The core of the case seems to be centered on whether Thicke and Pharrell “stole” Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give it Up” as the foundation for the massively popular “Blurred Lines.” A jury sided with the Gaye estate and awarded them a $7.3 million settlement. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the music industry the last decade-plus but I can tell you making $7 million on any one song is quite a feat. The award basically negates any original contribution Thicke and Pharrell brought to “Blurred Lines.” You can find lots of debate about song structure, melody and scales elsewhere. The important thing to consider is that songwriters now need to document and compensate any and all sources of inspiration or face legal jeopardy.

Now back to those gloating about another upstart “entertainer” (vs. artist) getting what’s coming to him. Consider the number of songs from your favorite (read: legitimate) artists that might not be here if held to the same standard applied to “Blurred Lines.” You can Google how many times Keith Richards has acknowledged nicking riffs from Chuck Berry, and I won’t even get into Led Zeppelin’s long history of “borrowing” from their idols. Just consider two songs from our most beloved band, The Beatles.

If that riff doesn’t sound familiar then you need to go back and listen to “I Feel Fine” again.

Bo Diddley’s lick in “Road Runner” not only provides the backbone of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car,” it also provides the “beep beep” with the notable addition of “yeah” from Lennon-McCartney. Art!

I couldn’t care less whether you like Robin Thicke or find his music derivative, but if we’re going to debate the artistic merits of music within the context of real financial liability, we should think about what that can mean to creative expression…and good jams!

For extra fun, listen to this video playing elements side-by-side. One is clearly influenced by the other but there are also clear musical differences between them. But I guess it’s more fun to laugh at that lout Robin Thicke…

8 thoughts on “The Sue Me, Sue You Blues and “Blurred Lines””

  1. I have to admit to being seriously pissed off at this idiotic jury for the last couple days… This is the same kind of shit decision that leads to stories like how it’s basically impossible to make an album like Paul’s Boutique today due to legal/financial issues.
    I still don’t even really understand the basis of the lawsuit… To the extent that I DO understand it, I guess Giorgio Moroder is now free to sue the entire goddamn EDM industry, right?
    So now Marvin Gaye will now forever be associated with the restriction of musical expression. Nice job, estate! Guess where you can shove that $7M?

  2. I don’t know if the lede was a nod to George “My Sweet Lord” Harrison, but it worked! And I agree. Wholeheartedly. Thicke may ooze a creeper vibe and his “I didn’t do jack shit creatively on this song. I was on pills!” testimony certainly does not portray him as the brightest bulb on the marquee, but to make “Blurred Lines” as a shining example of plagiaristic intention is a lazy accusation. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Thicke or his music, the complaints with this tune are becoming increasingly self righteous. And some of these same people will immediately discount The Estate of Randy California’s claim that “Stairway To Heaven” is merely Spirit’s “Taurus” redux, even though there’s probably more truth to that than Pharrell Williams being all that familiar with Gaye’s oeuvre.

  3. Of course it’s a nod to Harrison (and the other Beatles-related suits re: copyright infringement)! What’s my name, son!

  4. I find it almost impossible to believe that anybody who cares about music would be happy about this verdict. The two songs do not have the same melody at all. The bass line has a similar rhythm but has different notes. Yes, they captured the vibe of “Got to Give it Up” but can you copyright a vibe? Apparently juries think you can.

    I bet Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars are having their lawyers draw up a preemptive settlement with Morris Day as we speak. Take a sip, sign a check. Julio, get the stretch.

  5. Despite being seen as a dick-move, I think Pharrell and Thicke’s legal team are right in this statement accompanying the “pre-emptive” suit they filed against the Gaye estate last summer: “The basis of the Gaye defendants’ claims is that ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got to Give It Up’ ‘feel’ or ‘sound’ the same. Being reminiscent of a ‘sound’ is not copyright infringement,” the lawsuit states. “The intent in producing ‘Blurred Lines’ was to evoke an era. In reality, the Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work, and Bridgeport is claiming the same work.”

    Read more:

  6. This is ridiculous. The “Uptown Funk!” songwriter/publisher payout split is now, sources say:

    – Bhasker/SonyATV: 17 percent.
    – Gallaspy/SonyATV: 7.5 percent.
    – Ronson/Imagem: 17 percent.
    – Gap Band/Minder: 17 percent.
    – Lawrence: 17 percent.
    – Trinidad James/Trinlanta: 5.625 percent.
    – Trinidad James Record label/TIG7 Publishing: 1.875 percent.
    – Mars/Mars Force Music/BMG Chrysalis: 14.875 percent.
    – Mars/Northside Independent Music/Warner/Chappel Music: 2.125 percent.
    – Warner/Chappell, through its January 2011 acquisition of Southside Independent Music, owns 25 percent of Mars publishing — but collects only its 12.5 percent share (in this instance 12.5 percent of 17 percent, or 2.125 percent) as BMG administers all of Mars’ writer share.

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