In a landmark decision on copyright infringement, a court has decided that Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams did in fact unlawfully borrow crucial elements from the 1977 Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give it Up” for “Blurred Lines”—the top-selling song in 2013. Williams and Thicke are now required to pay the Marvin Gaye estate $7 million dollars. The songs really are absurdly similar. Hear for yourself.
It’s an interesting development. When you consider that the creative gene pool for pop music has always suffered from a material monotony that makes the British royal family seem diverse, sometimes it is difficult to determine when “writing to a formula” has crossed the “line” into “stealing someone else’s work.” There’s a fantastic video mash-up of six hit country songs that will have you questioning whether any new country music has actually been made over the last decade or so.
Part of the problem here lies with copyright law. It’s arbitrarily enforced. Because it’s vague. And should intention have any weight here? What if Williams and Thicke really didn’t consciously rip off Marvin Gaye? I think the main reason the suit was settled against Thicke and Williams was a comment Thicke made about his love for Marvin Gaye and his desire to make a song just like Gaye’s. Apparently, he succeeded. A little too well.
One good thing that might come from this is fear. Songwriters and producers might now be afraid enough of copyright infringement to make more creative original music. And that couldn’t really hurt anything. But people are talking about it like it’s a bad thing:
“It’s just a huge nail in the coffin for an already six-foot-under music industry. Now none of us have any idea what’s going to win a lawsuit,” said songwriter Greg Wells, who has co-written with superstars Adele and Katy Perry.
“It reaffirms to me that for most ordinary people, music sounds like Japanese to them if they’re not Japanese. This just takes the fear knob and cranks it to 11 for people who do what I and Pharrell do for a living,” he told AFP.
Sorry, but I have a hard time feeling bad for you, Greg. And by the way, it’s hard to put a nail in a coffin that is already six feet under ground. And I wasn’t aware there was a fear knob. But it’s good to know that yours goes to 11. Yeah. Long live creativity.