Blurred Lines (a mysterious case of musical similarities)

Given the unclear nature of music copyright issues, it’s ironic that latest and perhaps greatest copyright infringement verdict revolves around a song called “Blurred Lines”! A jury has recently said that 2013’s hit song “Blurred Lines” by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke copied Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.

Rather than giving my opinion on the issue here, I think it will be far more interesting if you listen to the 2 recordings in question, then read my questions below.

First, check out the songs:

Got To Give It Up

Blurred Lines

What do you think about the following issues?

1. Do you think the actual melodies or bass lines are identical (or parts of them)? If so, there is a copyright violation.

2. The 2 songs have a similar tempo and “sound.” In fact, both Williams and Thicke have acknowledged being specifically influenced by Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” However, even if they copied the overall feel of the song, the law does not say this is copyright infringement.

During the court trial, the jury was not allowed to actually hear the recordings in question (because the Gaye estate failed to correctly register the record for copyright back in the 70’s). The jury only compared the sheet music and listened to expert testimony from both sides. But a lot of musicians have expressed concern over this verdict because they think it’s mainly the groove and instrumentation that are similar. There is no historical precedent for a ruling like this. Many musicians think this presents a scary scenario in which an artist could be sued for playing in virtually any musical genre. For example: if you strum 4 blues chords on a guitar, can B.B. King or another blues guitarist claim you ripped them off? Can the Duke Ellington’s estate sue you if you use brass riffs or walking bass lines in your jazz tunes. All artists use the common elements of their genre. This does not mean they are stealing someone else’s music. It’s just part of having a common culture.

This is indeed a cased of “blurred lines,” both in terms of the actual verdict involving these 2 songs and in the historical precedent it might establish for the future.

What’s your opinion? What do you think? Let’s compare notes in the comments section below.

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