No ‘Blurred Lines’ in Marvin Gaye Copyright Infringement Decision

Last Tuesday a federal jury in Los Angeles agreed that songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams No. 1 song “Blurred Lines” had infringed the copyright in Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up”.

The landmark decision for the music industry awarded $4 million in damages plus $3.3 million of the profits from Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams to three of Gaye’s children.

In particular, Gaye’s legal team argued that there were significant similarities in the bass, keyboard line and the hook of the song. Evidence was given by a musicologist and even a YouTube video overlaying the two songs to demonstrate the likeness.

Thicke and Williams’ representatives asserted that the idea of the song was in the context of a similar musical genre. Williams’ was quoted as saying ‘Blurred Lines’ may have the “feel” of the Marvin Gaye classic, although he believed that his song was wholly original. Interestingly, evidence was presented demonstrating both writers had referenced Gaye in interviews when discussing their song writing process. The evidence established ‘willful’ infringement, a requirement for an award of statutory damages in the US.

Australia saw a similar case in 2010 where Larrikin Records won a copyright infringement case against rock band Men at Work. Specifically, the iconic ‘Down Under’ song was found to have infringed copyright in two of the four bars of ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’. In Australia the court must decide whether the part of the work claimed to be ‘taken’ constitutes a ‘substantial part’ of the copyright work.

Under Australian law, copyright vests automatically upon the creation of original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.