13 Mar How ‘Blurred Lines’ Could Make Pharrell the New Bill Gates – TIME Magazine
By Adam Ragusea, a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, and also a classically-trained composer.
Music experts may think the ruling was outrageous, but a precedent set by the tech industry may mean it sticks.
Count me among those who were infuriated by Tuesday’s “Blurred Lines” verdict. “Outrageous, indefensible” and “an assault upon the livelihoods of all creative people, everywhere” is how I immoderately put it in the British music mag NME.
But of course, it was not a group of highly trained musicians who determined that Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit, composed by Pharrell, stole from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.” It was a jury of eight people who surely were not Pharrell’s musical peers.
“The judge overseeing the case should never have let the case go before a jury,” Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu wrote in the New Yorker. “The ruling against Thicke was a mistake, and it should, and likely will, be reversed on appeal.”
Indeed, as many other musicians and I have pointed out, the songs in question share virtually no concrete musical material — no consecutive runs of notes in the melody or any similar content that has been the basis for successful copyright claims in comparable cases. Testimony to the contrary made in court by the Gaye family’s musicologist, Judith Finell, descended into the absurd.
Still, I’m struck by how many laypeople seem fine with the verdict, pointing out that the two songs do “feel” more alike than songs written in the same style usually do, regardless of what we in the musical priesthood say. Legally, there may be something to that.
If the Gaye estate’s lawyers find themselves on the ropes during the appeal process, they might think about importing a concept from a different realm of copyright law known as “look and feel,” New York entertainment lawyer Marc Jacobson told me. (He is not involved in this case, but his firm specializes in music and film.)