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Thicke and Gaye Estate Fight Over Claims of Copying Marvin Gaye Tune

The only “Blurred Line” Robin Thicke is dealing with right now is the one between paying homage to another artist’s creation and ripping it off.

The question of when, exactly, a certain piece of art goes from evoking another to infringing on the earlier piece’s copyright is a question that all artists have to deal with at some point in their careers and it’s never easy to answer.

Thicke’s hit single, “Blurred Lines,” which was released in 2013 and named Song of the Summer, has earned profits of more than $16 million for the singer/songwriter and his co-songwriter, Pharrell Williams.

But according to Marvin Gaye’s family, the hit song sounded too much like Gaye’s own hit, “Got to Give It Up,” to be anything other than outright plagiarism. Frankie and Nona Gaye, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement in 2013 when “Blurred Lines” was still ranked Number 1.

Attorneys representing Thicke and Williams argued in court that there was only a slight similarity between the two songs, and that the similarity had more to do with evoking a certain feeling and a particular era than with the music itself.

Determining whether two songs merely sound similar or bear distinct resemblances in the chords and themes they use is a tricky business. Jurors in the copyright lawsuit were told to judge the similarity of the two songs only on their sheet music, and not their commercial recordings. This was meant to allow the jurors to focus exclusively on the lyrics, melodies, and chords used in both songs to determine if the copyright on “Got to Give It Up” had been infringed.

Attorneys for Thicke and Williams argued this was not the most effective way to judge the similarity of two songs. Thicke even played an acoustic version of “Blurred Lines” along with songs by U2 and the Beatles in an effort to show how easily one song can be made to sound like another.

To those familiar with the music industry, one of the most remarkable aspects of this case is that it got to court at all. Allegations of infringement are common, but most of them settle long before reaching the trial stage, especially when the defendants are wealthy.

The fact that Thicke and Williams chose to continue fighting these allegations all the way to the court shows how much they believed they were in the right and wanted to prove it to the world.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out. The jury ruled in favor of the Gaye family, saying that “Blurred Lines” had infringed on the classic “Got to Give It Up,” although they did concede that Thicke and Williams had not done so intentionally.

In their verdict, the jury awarded Frankie and Nona Gay $4 million in damages, in addition to $3.3 million of the profits Thicke and Williams earned off the hit song they wrote together. Members of the Gaye family cried tears of joy when they heard the verdict, but Thicke and Williams have said they think the decision will be disastrous for the music industry.Super Lawyers named Illinois business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Illinois business trial lawyers have over a quarter of century of experience in litigating complex class action, copyright, non-compete agreement, trademark and libel suits, consumer rights and many different types of business and commercial litigation disputes.  Our Glen Ellyn and Lisle business dispute lawyers handle emergency business law suits involving copyrights, trademarks, injunctions, and TROS, covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud. You can contact us by calling (630) 333-0000 or our toll free number (877) 990-4990.  You can also contact us online here.