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Verdict blurs lines of intellectual property law

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2018 | Intellectual Property

It has been a long ordeal for music artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Since 2013, the two have faced accusations that their song “Blurred Lines” infringed on the intellectual property of the late Marvin Gaye because of its similarities to “Got to Give It Up,” a 1977 R&B hit. Thicke and Pharrell initially attempted to preempt any copyright claims by filing a lawsuit seeking a court’s ruling that the song did not infringe on the Gaye’s copyrights. A final ruling came down this week.

Marvin Gaye’s family countersued Thicke and Pharrell in 2015, and the court sided with them, saying “Blurred Lines” did plagiarize the 1977 song. Thicke and Pharrell also lost on appeal. When they recently missed the deadline for petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, the case was closed, leaving the Gaye family with a $5.3 million award and 50 percent of future royalties for the song “Blurred Lines.”

Many in the music industry decry the verdict. They say the ruling effectively grants the Gaye family copyright protection for a genre of music rather than a single song. Neither the lyrics, the melody, the key nor the rhythm of the two songs is the same, according to critics of the ruling. They fear this creates a dangerous precedent of songwriters suing each other when their songs have the same feel or sound.

While some intellectual property disputes may take years to resolve, others are a clearer violation of an artist’s rights. A successful claim of copyright infringement may not only restore lost royalties, but it may establish a model for future cases. Since copyright law is complex and ever-changing, it may be in an artist’s best interests to seek legal advice about the best alternatives for a specific situation.