The summer of 2013 was one of record breakers for blue-eyed R&B crooner, Robin Thicke. His song “Blurred Lines,” featuring Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris (“TI”), broke the record for biggest single week download when it racked more than 428,000 in June. It broke another record in July when the song reached more than 242.62 million listeners, smashing the record for highest radio audience ever. But, perhaps in August all good things will come to an end?
Last week Thicke, along with Williams and Harris, filed a suit against Marvin Gaye’s family as well as Bridgeport Music in the Central District of California Court. According to the suit, the Gaye family and Bridgeport Music had recently notified Thicke that if he did not pay a monetary settlement, they would initiate litigation for copyright infringement. According to the Gaye family, Thicke’s summer hit “Blurred Lines” too closely resembles Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” Bridgeport Music claims the same, arguing that Thicke’s song infringes on the Funkadelic song, “Sexy Ways,” the rights to which Bridgeport Music owns.
In his six-page suit, Thicke claims there are no similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” or “Sexy Ways.” I recently brought both songs to Everett Cork, a music industry insider for over 30 years. A former on air-personality at the classic oldies radio station WCIN, Cork has spent the bulk of his career playing the likes of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops and The Commodores. When asked to compare “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” two songs, Cork noted, “for anyone not to notice the similarities is truly beyond my comprehension.” He went on to state that a “great majority of the music that capture the ears of today’s music lovers, captivates because it samples the beats of songs that will forever be pleasant to listen and dance to.” He believes the song is clearly a remake of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” According to him, the BPMs (beats per minute) make it one of the simplest songs to mix with Gaye’s original hit.
So, what is copyright infringement? To establish copyright infringement in a court of law, a copyright owner must establish proof of i). ownership of the infringing work and ii). proof of copying. Proof of copying may be established either by direct evidence (such as an admission) or by indirect evidence (such as demonstrating access to the original work and “substantial similarity” between the original and allegedly infringing work). Under the current facts of this case, Gaye’s family would have to prove that Thicke had access to the song (which wouldn’t be difficult) and that it is substantially similar to “Got to Give It Up.” The measure to ascertain whether infringement has occurred is the importance of the part taken, not the amount taken.
In his suit, Thicke is requesting that the judge issue a ruling stating that his song does not infringe on the copyright of “Got to Give it Up” or “Sexy Ways. In “Blurred Lines,” Thicke claims, “I feel so lucky.” Let’s see how long that luck lasts….
Jaia Thomas is a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment attorney. Her multi-faceted practice covers all segments of the entertainment industry, including: television, film, music and new media. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she is a graduate of Colgate University (BA), The George Washington University Law School and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. For more information: www.jathomaslaw.com or @jaiathomaslaw.