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Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke Hit With $7.4 Million Fine in 'Blurred Lines' Copyright Case

From left, artists Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell Williams appear with models in this still from the "Blurred Lines" video. (Vevo)

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday determined that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had copied several elements from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” in making their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” Unless they successfully appeal the verdict, the latest in a series of legal volleys between the two parties, Williams and Thicke will have to pay Gaye’s children $7.4 million.

“Blurred Lines” had already caused plenty of controversy, with some critics dubbing it a “rape song,” and others finding the music video — featuring nearly naked female models dancing with Williams, Thicke and guest rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr. — to be an especially flagrant example of objectification.

As Bob Stanley, a music journalist and member of the band St. Etienne, noted Wednesday in The Guardian, the case itself could set a new and troubling precedent for future songs:

Just how dangerous could this ruling prove? Williams and Robin Thicke haven’t been accused of sampling, stealing lyrics or melodies here, just the “feel” of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up. Let’s take a look back at beat groups of the mid-60s (their hair, their suits), and listen to their harmonies. Whether it’s the Hollies in Britain, the Byrds in America, or regional heroes like Sweden’s Hep Stars, they all borrowed the “feel” of the Beatles. The Hep Stars featured a young Benny Andersson — could the Beatles also, by default, sue for a share of Abba’s royalties?

How far can you take this illegal “feel” borrowing? The entire New Romantic scene looked to David Bowie and Roxy Music for lyrical and sartorial feel, and to Kraftwerk for a futuristic drive. Bowie had his own way of dealing with this, and threw it back at his acolytes — he wrote the bulk of his Scary Monsters album about the younger generation borrowing his moves. He was smart enough to even include one arch-fan, Steve Strange, in the video for Ashes To Ashes. Given the new “feel” ruling, he could presumably now sue Strange, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Japan, Spandau Ballet, Suede — the list goes on.

Rolling Stone has chronicled how the court battle between Gaye’s family and the “Blurred Lines” performers has unfolded.

Compare the two songs below, starting with Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”:

And here’s “Blurred Lines”:

— Posted by Donald Kaufman.

Donald Kaufman
Donald Kaufman began contributing to Truthdig in 2013. He has reported from many locations, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and North Dakota, where he covered the confrontations over the Dakota Access…
Donald Kaufman

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