A federal copyright infringement trial in Los Angeles has ended with a jury verdict against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for about $7.4 million on behalf of Marvin Gaye’s family, finding the duo’s 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines” copied parts of Gaye's “Got to Give it Up.” Veteran entertainment lawyer Owen Sloane discusses the decision in this report.
Sloane notes that the Blurred Lines case is somewhat unusual in that it was actually tried rather than settled. However, it may be too soon to see what the verdict will mean for future trials. If the decision was that the defendants copied notes and music—things that may be copyrighted—the case is not unusual. But if the decision was based on “look and feel” or something similar, the case would unusual in that those things are not subject to copyright. The fact that one thing sounds similar to another does not mean that there is an infringement.
The jury in the case compared the songs based on the sheet music. Sloane says that this is a more exact comparison than simply listening to two recordings. Two songs can sound similar without there being any infringement.
The Gaye family has indicated that they plan to seek an injunction against the sale of the defendants’ song. Sloane suggests that this is an attempt to put pressure on the defendants to settle the lawsuit.
Sloane also notes that the copyright law contains a three-year statute of limitations But if there is a continuing infringement, the statutory three-year count starts over every time there is an infringement. Whether this sizable verdict will encourage more settlements of future cases is hard to predict right now, Sloan says. It will depend on how similar the songs were. “A lot of times, it becomes a battle of musicologists” as to how close two songs really are.
Sloane also notes that some inadvertent infringement may occur simply because people in the music business hear many songs, and it is possible for a song to get implanted in someone’s head and come out later as a new song. This sort of “unintentional infringement” was what happened to George Harrison with his song “My Sweet Lord” (which was found to be infringement).
Owen J. Sloane is partner in the Entertainment, Media & The Arts Department of Eisner Jaffe, Beverly Hills. With over 40 years of experience, Owen is one of the most respected attorneys in the entertainment industry, representing major artists and leading corporations in entertainment, Internet and music publishing. He regularly handles complex and sophisticated transactions for music industry and other entertainment clients and handles all forms of contract, agreement and licensing negotiation for clients in the music, film, television and digital media industries. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.