Most people who complain about contemporary music usually criticize its lack of originality, especially compared to music from earlier eras.
Well, now, America’s legal system agrees!
In one of the more high profile cases of musical copyright infringement ever, a jury decided on Tuesday that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams stole enough elements in their 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines,” from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 “Got to Give it Up,” that they must pay the surviving members of the Gaye family $7.3 million.
For one, who would even want to claim credit for writing Blurred Lines? OK, I’m sort of kidding. That question is an easy one — for money.
Had Blurred Lines been an obscure track that got little radio play, then nobody would care. But because it brought in millions, of course the Gaye family looked to capitalize.
I probably have one of the worst musical ears in history. I don’t know anything about melodies or pitch, and I’ve never sang a note in tune in my life. I’d be a worse American Idol judge than Nicki Minaj.
That being said, it’s easy to hear the similarity between the songs. So this news comes as no surprise.
What is surprising is that it even got this far. Typically when two artists are in a copyright dispute, they’ll settle privately before it even gets to court. Take Sam Smith and Tom Petty for example, and the two songs in that instance (“Stay With Me” and “I Won’t Back Down”) don’t even sound any where near as similar.
The court proceedings were apparently pretty interesting, and nobody comes away looking worse than Thicke. He admitted that he was constantly under influence of drugs and alcohol during the song’s triumphant run, and that he lied about writing any of the song.
It was also revealed that it was Thicke and Pharrell who sued the Gayes first for slander, and the family quickly counter sued. Talk about a decision that backfired.
On the other hand, somebody give an Oscar to Nona Gaye. Her reaction to the verdict makes it seem like Thicke and Pharrell murdered her father (it was actually her grandfather who murdered her father). It’s pretty clear to me that Marvin Gaye’s children don’t give a shit about preserving their father’s musical legacy. They were in it for the money. And they got it.
But what the bigger news here is what this decision means for musical creativity.
Thicke has said that he idolized Gaye, and therefore was influenced by him. What’s the fine line between trying to evoke an era, a groove, an artist, between that of stealing? This sets a very dangerous precedent.
What if artists will now be deterred from writing a song paying homage to an older artist, out of the fear that they might be sued?
How long until the surviving family members of James Brown sue Bruno Mars for copying his entire discography?
There’s so much music out there, that it’s almost impossible to be completely original.
And now, the lines just got a whole lot blurrier.