The Blurred Line Between Influence and Copyright

(From left to right: Robin Thicke, Marvin Gaye, Pharrell Wiliams) (ISAAC BREKKEN/GETTY IMAGES; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES)

(From left to right: Robin Thicke, Marvin Gaye and Pharrell Williams)
(ISAAC BREKKEN/GETTY IMAGES; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES)

Pharrel Williams, Robin Thicke and rapper TI – real name, Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. – were taken to court on Friday 6th March over the copyright infringement by Marvin Gaye’s family for the resemblances of the Marvin Gaye song ‘Got To Give It Up’. It was revealed that Pharrel Williams and Robin Thicke made over £3 million each as well as TI making over £700,000, from an overall profit of just over £10 million, with the rest of the money going to the record companies (Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak). (Hollywood Reporter [1]). Of course, the artist’s say that they didn’t steal the song with Thicke even stating, “The record would have happened with or without me. None of it was my idea … I was drunk … [and] I’d say 75% of it was already done when I walked in.” (Hollywood Reporter [2]). However, it was today revealed that the Gaye family had won the ‘Blurred Lines’ case. The Gaye family are to be given money from record and live sales as well as damages caused from the copying of the ‘Got To Give It Up’ song written by Marin Gaye.

What this case shows is the blurred line between copying a song and getting inspiration form a song.

As artists are aware, it can be sometimes difficult to create a song from scratch. Sometimes you need some influence from music, this can be from listening to your favourite bands or going out and listening to different genres you have never heard. Sometimes a guitar riff or drumbeat can come to mind, when you are doing something irrelevant to music altogether. The song ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles was thought up by Sir Paul McCartney from a dream he’s had one morning. Sir Paul McCartney was interviewed on XFM and told the radio station that “It came to me in a dream…I just woke up one morning and it was in my head.” (Gigwise [3]). Another example of a court case was from Coldplay’s song ‘Viva La Vida’ which had allegedly copied “substantial original portions” from the song ‘If I Could Fly’ by Joe Satriani. Unlike the ‘Blurred lines’ case, Coldplay swore that they had never heard the song ‘If I Could Fly’. The court dismissed the case, with both parties having to reach an out of court financial settlement on their own terms. These examples of Sir Paul McCartney and Coldplay show that there doesn’t have to be a direct influence from music that’s already been made.

Nevertheless, it could still be argued that although Coldplay hadn’t even heard the song ‘If I could Fly’ and that Sir Paul McCartney had one morning dreamt about the song ‘Yesterday’, they both had influences from music but they hadn’t realised. A dream is made up of situations that happen in the day or what you’ve been thinking of recently. It is plausible to think that Sir Paul McCartney had heard music that day but didn’t consciously think about it, with the brain creating a song over night, that in a conscious state (the next morning) he’d put together to make sense. This could be the case with Coldplay as even though the band stated they hadn’t heard the song ‘If I could Fly’, they may have heard it unconsciously and thought they had created a new song but instead were influenced by a song similar to ‘If I Could Fly’. Although not completely similar, these two scenarios had different outcomes with one being taken to court and the other not. What this goes to show is that especially nowadays it’s a lot easier to be alleged of copyright infringement even when you think you created the song from scratch or with the ‘Blurred Lines’ case with an influence from music from the past.

A reason for creating songs that sound very similar to other songs is that other songs are easily accessible in studios. In a post written by the L.A. Times it says about how “Where once an artist could be inspired only by music he or she had already heard and processed, immediate access to millions of musical ideas is now a search engine away.” (LA times [4]). This happens all the time in todays world with the access to the Internet on most electronic devices such as; phones, computers and televisions. Nonetheless, there isn’t a court case made about ‘artistic theft’ everyday because these songs are so common and only a small portion makes it to the big time. “For every visionary are a hundred thieves, and the only difference is one celebrates his theft while the others claim ignorance.” (LA times [4])

This case with ‘Blurred Lines’ was really made for money purposes and not artistic theft. The reason it was made public was to boost sales.

“Even before the trial, the controversy over the similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” appears to have boosted sales of the Gaye song. The biggest week of digital sales on record for “Got to Give It Up” — during which it sold 6,300 copies — occurred in the second half of August 2013 — the same month that Thicke preemptively filed suit against the Gaye family.” (The Wrap[5])

(Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines VS Marvin Gaye – Got to Give it Up)

Reference URLs

1. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/blurred-lines-trial-reveals-how-778884 

2. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/robin-thicke-admits-drug-abuse-732783

3. http://www.gigwise.com/news/47473/paul-mccartney-favourite-beatles-song-came-to-me-in-a-dream

4. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-blurred-lines-notebook-pharrell-williams-robin-thicke-marvin-gaye-20150306-column.html#page=1

5. http://www.thewrap.com/blurred-lines-lawsuit-nearly-doubles-sales-of-disputed-marvin-gaye-song/

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