14 December 2018Copyright

Thicke and Williams ordered to pay $5m to Marvin Gaye’s family

A US court has ordered Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay Marvin Gaye’s family $5 million because their song “Blurred Lines” infringed the copyright of one of Gaye’s songs, “Got to Give It Up”.

The ruling, on December 6 by the US District Court for the Central District of California, stated that Thicke, Williams and Williams’ publishing company More Water from Nazareth must pay Gaye’s family damages of $2.8 million. Thicke has also been ordered to pay an additional $1.7 million, while Williams and his publishing company will pay another $357,630.

The total fee is just under $5 million, less than a third of the total revenue of $16.6 million that the single has generated.

In addition, the Gaye family, who own the copyright to all of Marvin’s music, will be entitled to 50% of all future royalties earned by “Blurred Lines”.

The high-profile copyright case has been running since 2013, when the song was released.

In its first year, “Blurred Lines” reached No 1 in the US and UK, becoming Thicke’s biggest hit to date. That year, following an accusation by the Gaye family that the song infringed “Got to Give It Up”, released in 1977, Thicke and Williams filed a lawsuit to try to affirm that “Blurred Lines” did not infringe the copyright.

The Gaye family countersued and initially won the case in 2015, but Thicke and Williams appealed. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the verdict in March this year, which has now been confirmed by the latest judgment.

During the 2013 trial, Williams argued that “Blurred Lines” may “channel the ‘70s feeling”, but “to feel isn’t copyright infringement”.

The Ninth Circuit was split on the issue and one of the three judges, Jacqueline Nguyen, dissented from the ruling when it was delivered earlier this year.

In her dissent, Nguyen said that the decision allowed the Gaye family to “accomplish what no one has before: copyright a music style”.

Nyugen added that by “improperly” allowing the Gaye family to copyright a music style, the decision expands the potential for copyright litigation in the music industry.

But, the district court and the appeal court found enough similarities in phrases, hooks, bass lines, harmonic structures, keyboard chords and vocal melodies.

When the appeal court’s verdict was delivered in March, one lawyer told WIPR that it was flawed.

Charles Colman, founder of Charles Colman Law and a musician himself, said the similarities highlighted are only superficial or similar because they include elements common to the general genre in question.

But, Richard Busch, the lawyer representing Gaye’s family, said the decision “not only protects songwriters’ works from being unlawfully copied without payment or credit, but encourages today’s writers to create original work that does not take advantage of the success of others while pawning it off as their own”.

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More on this story

12 July 2018   US musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have been denied a rehearing in a copyright infringement case involving a Marvin Gaye song.
14 April 2015   The star-studded cast of the Blurred Lines trial may be largely responsible for its fame, but the case itself has raised some interesting questions about copyright and what exactly constitutes infringement. WIPR investigates.