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Infringement v. Homage: Pharrell Williams, et al. v. Bridgeport Music Inc., et. al. 03/30/2015

Posted by Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton in Intellectual Property, Legal Developments, Licensing & Strategic Alliances, Publishing & Media.
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By: Callie L. Pioli

Callie L. PioliThe music industry did not get far into 2015 before delivering a blockbuster copyright case. Pharrell Williams’ and Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit Blurred Lines was in fact only 50% their hit, according to a jury verdict in mid-March that found in favor of Marvin Gaye’s children.  As co-owners of his original 1977 hit, Got to Give it Up, Gaye’s children successfully argued that Williams and Thicke had copied numerous aspects of their father’s song and had infringed the copyright in the 1977 hit. The jury accepted the Gaye family’s contention that if Got to Give It Up had been properly licensed, the family would have received royalties of 50% of the $8 million in Blurred Lines revenue. Additionally, Williams and Thicke were forced to surrender $3.4 million of their earned profits from Blurred Lines sales.

Ironically, the lawsuit was commenced by Williams and Thicke themselves, who originally sought a preemptive ruling that Blurred Lines “shared no similarities”[1] with Got to Give It Up after receiving complaints from members of the Gaye family. The Gayes, as defendants, successfully litigated a counter-claim, arguing that the songs were substantially similar and that they were owed $25 million in royalties, profits, and statutory damages. Williams and Thicke lived up to their reputations as performers while on the stand, doing their best to persuade the jury to re-interpret copyright law as excluding the “feel” or “sound”[2] of music, and taking the opportunity to sing to the jury.

While much has been made of the spotlight on Thicke’s admitted drug use in the studio, the blatantly inconsistent statements regarding exactly how much influence Gaye had on Williams and Thicke during the writing process, and the whopping total award of $7.3 million to the Gaye family, the suit also illustrated the importance of both copyright compliance and honoring fiduciary duties. Continue reading…

Any interested “ordinary observers” can listen to a direct comparison of Blurred Lines and Got to Give it Up online.

For more information on copyright law and intellectual property licensing, please contact Callie Pioli or any member of our copyright group.

[1] Complaint for Declaratory Relief at ¶ 1, Pharrell Williams, et al. v. Bridgeport Music Inc., et. al., No. 13-06004 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 15, 2013).

[2] Id. at ¶ 2.

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