Williams and Thicke to pay up for hit
Blurred Lines writers fined over Gaye ‘copy’
There was no blurring of lines as far as a jury in the US was concerned after it awarded the estate of Marvin Gaye a record $7.4 million in a copyright infringement against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the 2013 hit.
The jury decided Blurred Lines was too similar to Gaye’s 1977 song Got to Give it Up.
The decision is the latest in a long line of copying cases that has seen legal cases involve top artists such as the Beach Boys, George Harrison and the Rolling Stones. Only a few weeks ago Sam Smith’s Stay with Me was ruled to have copied the Tom Petty hit I Won’t Back Down.
However, the latest case has raised concerns about the extent to which a song writer copies another song or merely uses it as a source of inspiration. Many genres, such as 12-bar blues, rock and roll and rap draw on a similar range of structures. Some critics of the decision say there are many “copies” around but it is only when a song becomes a big seller that the lawyers get involved.
Blurred Lines generated $16,675,690 in income, and the Gaye estate was awarded $7.4 million of it, with $4 million in copyright damages plus profits attributable to infringement of $1.8 million from Thicke and $1.6 million from Williams.
There were no additional statutory damages as the infringement was found not to be willful.
It is thought Thicke and Williams may appeal against the verdict.
Other cases of copyright infringement that went to court include:
* George Harrison My Sweet Lord (1971) vs The Chiffons He’s So Fine (1962)
Outcome: Harrison had to give back all the money earned from My Sweet Lord and even some of the sales from the album All Things Must Pass. However, he ultimately bought the rights to He’s So Fine.
* Huey Lewis I Want a New Drug (1983) vs Ray Parker Jr Ghostbusters (1984)
Outcome Settled out of court. However, after Lewis discussed the copyright issue in an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, Parker sued for breaching their confidentiality agreement.
* Queen and David Bowie Under Pressure (1981) vs Vanilla Ice Ice, Ice Baby (1990)
Outcome: Vanilla Ice altered the rhythm of the baseline in the belief he could avoid any copyright breaches. However, he was still forced to settle with Queen and David Bowie out of court when it was clear that he stole the sample without permission.
* Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I Won’t Back Down (1989) vs Sam Smith Stay With Me (2014)
Outcome: Smith said it was a “complete accident” that his hit had similarities with Petty’s melodies. Smith and his co-writers – James Napier and William Phillips – settled, accepting the similarities and giving Petty and Jeff Lynne writing credits, along with 12.5% of the royalties from the hit song. Petty and Lynne are also now listed as co-writers on the track.
* The Hollies The Air That I Breathe (1973) vs Radiohead Creep (1992)
Outcome: The credits for Radiohead’s hit now include Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood who wrote the 1973 ballad. The pair successfully sued the band for similarities in chords and vocal melodies and earned a co-writer credit.
* The Rolling Stones The Last Time (1965) vs The Verve Bittersweet Symphony (1997)
Outcome: While the Verve had negotiated a licence to use a five-note sample from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ song, they were sued by one of the band’s former managers, Allen Klein, who claimed The Verve broke the agreement when they used a larger portion of the music than was covered in the licence. It was settled out of court and the Verve handed over 100% of their royalties.
* Chuck Berry Sweet Little Sixteen (1958) vs Beach Boys Surfin’ USA (1963)
Outcome: When it was first released, the Beach Boys made no attempt to credit Berry for any aspect of Surfin’ USA and Brian Wilson was listed as the sole composer. But the band eventually gave Berry the copyrighted rights for writing Surfin’ USA.