Copyright Infringement

Blurred Lines in Copyright Protection

Robin Thicke sues for declaratory judgment that his hit summer song, “Blurred Lines,” doesn’t cross the line on copyright infringement.

In the same month of 1977 as Robin Thicke’s birth, Marvin Gaye released what would become a chart topping hit single, “Got to Give it Up.” Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” has reached the number one spot.

Thicke is on record as stating that Gaye’s hit is his all-time favorite song and influential upon his recent composition. The Gaye family and the copyright owner of Gaye’s hit allege that Thicke’s composition crosses the line of copyright infringement, because it feels or sounds the same. According to the complaint filed by Thicke, they asked for a cash settlement in lieu of a lawsuit.

Instead of writing a check, Thicke, who admits that his song was intended to evoke an era and be reminiscent of a particular sound, has filed his own a preemptive lawsuit asking the court to declare that his song does not infringe on Gaye’s hit. His complaint alleges that the Gaye family is claiming ownership of an entire genre instead of a specific work.

When it comes to copyright in music, the line is sometimes blurred. Gaye’s hit, originally titled “Dancing Lady,” was inspired by the Johnnie Taylor hit “Disco Lady.” The song depicts a shy man who was once too nervous to dance but is eventually emboldened by the music and the possibility of romance. The long play version sums it up the sentiment with the words, “Let’s dance; let’s shout; get funky what it’s all about.” These lyrics were altered by Michael Jackson and his brother Randy to “Let’s dance, let’s shout; shake your body down to the ground” in the Jackson’s classic released in late 1978, “Shake Your Body.” Michael Jackson borrowed even more of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” style in his song released in mid-1979, “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” which also uses percussion instruments and a constant guitar riff as a foundation.

Apparently during the 70′s artists did not feel infringed upon by others who found inspiration in their music. So, in the words of Marvin Gaye, what’s going on? Obviously attitudes have changed. That may be understandable given the music industry’s status and profits. Even so, absent similar lyrics or melodic progression, any claim by Gaye’s family that Thicke has got to give it up may be misplaced. On the other hand, they are likely to benefit from all the publicity given to a 70′s hit that has not received this much attention since disco died.

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