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Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams Lose Marvin Gaye Copyright Suit to the Tune of $7.4 Million
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Gaye family wins $7.4 million

Summary: Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have lost the case and almost $7.4 million for copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”

The business about copyright infringement can be wishy-washy enough – subjective, overly-nuanced, downright incredible – but when it goes for songs inspired by songs, it’s anybody’s game. Nobody knew how the verdict would go when Marvin Gaye’s family sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for their song, “Blurred Lines,” based, as they claimed, on Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give It Up.” But since the Gaye’s were seeking an immodest $25 million from the venture, subjectivity be damned, let’s be meticulous.


Ultimately, the jury would grant the Gayes $7.4 million, the highest in music industry history so far. The $5.4 million awarded when Michael Bolton and Sony were sued for infringing the Isley Brothers’ “Love is a Wonderful Thing,” had up to this point been the biggest gig to hit the fan.

Howard King, who represented Thicke, Williams and rapper T.I, made the case that artists should be given creative space to find their muse as they see fit, telling the jurors, “We’re going to show you what you already know: that no one owns a genre or a style or a groove. To be inspired by Marvin Gaye is an honorable thing.” This sounds like a clear-cut and concise statement of what indeed everybody does know: art is about freedom, not about beating people up for finding inspiration in other artists.

However, Richard Busch, representing the Gayes, was prepared for all such appeals, and also the charm of Thicke, saying in opening statements, “They will smile at you and they will be charming. Keep one thing in mind: They are professional performers.”

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He had to further make his case without reference to the recorded music of Gaye, as that was not copyrighted, using exclusively the sheet music to “Got to Give it Up,” and also “Love After War,” another song the family was claiming was infringed upon. Incidentally, they also won over that song, but a lackluster $9,000, which won’t much be remembered in contrast to the $7.4 million win.

Musicologists made the case for Busch that there were too many similarities in signature phrase, hook, keyboard-bass interplay, lyrics, and theme of the songs.

Thicke endured the chagrin of being exposed as lying in media interviews about the song, and also that he was drunk and high on Vicodin in interviews. What originally was a dispute about inspiration became more of a smear campaign, with Busch closing his arguments saying, “What it boils down to is ‘Yes, we copied. Yes, we took it. Yes, we lied about it. Yes, we changed our story every time’ … It boils down to this: Who do you believe? Are you going to believe Robin Thicke, who told us all he’s not an honest person?”

Evidently the jury was swayed by all this, and music history has been made, pending an appeal. Be careful about who inspires you: he might slam you for $25 million.

News Source: CNN.com


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