Not so Blurred Lines

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By Scott Coulthart, Special Counsel

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ hit song Blurred Lines has attracted a lot of attention since its release in 2013.

From condemnation for its promotion of “a very worrying attitude towards sex and consent” (article here) to its use as a controversial feminist mouthpiece (article here), Thicke and Pharrell have sparked international debate about differing gender standards throughout society.

Recently, however, Blurred Lines has hit the headlines for an entirely different reason all together.

Earlier this month an American Court found Thicke and Pharrell guilty for breach of copyright, holding that Blurred Lines was composed using distinct elements of the late Marvin Gaye’s song, Got to Give It Up.

Thicke and Pharrell reportedly pocketed US$16.67 million between them from Blurred Lines, now with more than half of those profits being awarded to Gaye’s estate for the infringement.

Throughout the trial, jurors heard detailed analysis of the similarities between the chords and notes comprising both Blurred Lines and Got to Give It Up.

While Pharrell claims (article here) the decision “handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else”, this is certainly not the first time the law has cleared the line between high-profile creativity and copyright.

In 1976, George Harrison was found to have ‘subconsciously plagiarised’ songwriter Ronnie Mack’s song He’s So Fine when composing his classic tune My Sweet Lord, while the now infamous two-bar flute rift in Men at Work’s Land Down Under was said to be a substantial reproduction of the childhood classic Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.

While it is not clear whether Thicke and Pharrell will appeal the decision, it seems Blurred Lines, for the moment at least, has Got to Give It Up.

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