Singer Robin Thicke was in court this week to defend himself in a lawsuit that alleges his hit song, "Blurred Lines," is based on Marvin Gaye's 1977 single, "Got to Give It Up."
"Blurred Lines" was the number one single of 2013, selling almost 6.5 million copies. Gaye’s children have sued Thicke and his co-writers, Pharrell Williams and the rapper T.I., for copyright infringement, claiming that “Blurred Lines” borrows too heavily from Gaye’s song.
In case you're curious, here are the two songs in question:
Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines (feat. T.I. and Pharrell)"
Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
The composition of the two songs is at the center of a current trial in Los Angeles federal court. Covering the trial for the Hollywood Reporter is Austin Siegemund-Broka. The Frame spoke with Austin about the lawsuit and what has been going on in the courtroom:
There are a couple of lawsuits here. Who sued whom?
One of the reasons this case is interesting is because Robin Thicke, Pharrell and Clifford Harris — who's better known as the rapper T.I. — sued the Gaye family to get a preemptive declaration that they have not copied any of Marvin Gaye's songs. Then, of course, the Gayes immediately filed a countersuit alleging that the musicians had copied the work of their late father.
One of the issues here is the copyright law itself. "Got To Give It Up" was a 1977 song and the copyright law changed in 1978. So what does that mean for what's at issue at this trial?
This is a very interesting change because, before 1978, according to the judge in this case at least, copyright law only governs the written sheet music composition of a piece of music, not the actual sound recording itself. That is a separate copyright. What the judge has deemed is that what the Gaye children own is, in fact, the sheet music copyright. Therefore, what Robin Thicke and Pharrell have to prove is that their composition is not improperly derived from what's written in the sheet music of Marvin Gaye's music, not whether the song themselves sound too similar.
This is a big issue in music right now. Sam Smith recently said that he would agree to share songwriting credit with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne because his song, "Stay With Me," is similar enough to "I Won't Back Down." So this is not unusual, but what's unusual is that it has actually gone to trial.
It is unusual it went to trial. I know, for instance, that the Sam Smith/Tom Petty dispute never got anywhere near a lawsuit. It was settled very amicably. I think what's happening here is both parties are very emotionally invested in the work they claim is theirs and both essentially have the financial and experiential resources to pull a lawsuit forward.
One of the big elements in this trial is what Thicke himself has said in interviews, where he claimed that he was very influenced not just by Marvin Gaye but by "Got To Give It Up." What is he now saying about those interviews?
Essentially he is saying that not only he was completely untruthful in the interviews, but that he was drunk and high on Vicodin during every single one of them. He gave this extraordinary deposition not too long ago where he essentially claims that in all of those interviews, he was just trying to sell records by saying something that he thought sounded cool and interesting.
And Thicke also brought in a keyboard to the courtroom the other day. What was the purpose of that?
That was an interesting demonstration to show that even songs with similar chords — like "Let It Be," like "With or Without You" — could end up being recorded completely differently. Because essentially what Thicke and Pharrell are arguing is exactly the opposite, which is that however similar the recording of "Blurred Lines" and "Got To Give It Up," they found the actual underlying compositions are very different.
There was testimony yesterday from an executive from Motown executive [Gaye's former label]. What did he have to say about the similarities between the songs?
He immediately noticed some similarities between the recording of the commercially released version of "Blurred Lines" and of Marvin Gaye's song. So much so, in fact, that he even pushed executives at Universal to cross-market Gaye's material with "Blurred Lines" and to create a mashup. However, he conceded that he had only been listening to recordings, not looking at the actual sheet music itself.
But it's not like Pharrell, T.I. and Robin Thicke were looking at the sheet music. If they were referencing Marvin Gaye, they weren't looking at the composition. They were thinking about the song performance.
That's absolutely true, but the sheet music is by legal standards the only thing this case can concern.