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Got to give up those blurred lines! Jury nails Thicke for infringement

Got to give up those blurred lines! Jury nails Thicke for infringement

Get your own baseline, man.

Remember the Vanilla Ice copyright infringement case? Queen and David Bowie sued Vanilla Ice after it became abundantly clear that “Ice Ice Baby” had sampled the baseline from Queen and Bowie’s hit “Under Pressure.” Listen:

Hear the extra note in Vanilla Ice’s version? The case may have settled out of court, but anyone who listens to the two songs together knows that that one little note wasn’t exactly a gamechanger.

The entertainment industry(‘s lawyers) are buzzing about copyright again, this time about a lawsuit filed by Marvin Gaye’s children after they noticed that breakout hit “Blurred Lines” penned by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams borrowed heavily from Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got to Give it Up.” Yesterday a jury awarded Gaye’s family over seven million dollars to compensate for a borrowed baseline that earned Thicke and his crew over $20 million in royalties and revenue.

Let’s take a listen. Here’s “Got to Give it Up”:

Here’s “Blurred Lines” (probably NSFW, so minimize that window):

Here’s the two mashed together:

The LA Times explains the problem:

The Gayes contended that they instantly recognized striking similarities between the two songs when they first heard “Blurred Lines.” They called to the stand a musicologist who analyzed the songs and concluded there was a “constellation” of eight similar elements. Others outside court had also noticed similarities, including reviewers, fans and one person who overlaid the two songs for a mix uploaded to YouTube.

An attorney for the Gaye children, Richard Busch, said there were copied elements — including the bass and keyboard line, the hook and a repeated theme — in all but two bars of “Blurred Lines.”

Busch also repeatedly pointed to statements made by the credited writers of the song — Thicke and Williams — referencing the late Motown legend in interviews about their writing process. Thicke said in several interviews that he suggested to Williams that they write something like “Got to Give It Up,” and Williams has said he was “trying to pretend” he was Gaye when he wrote it.

Attorneys for both Thicke and Williams tried to play off those comments, but it obviously didn’t work—the music spoke for itself.

Thicke isn’t the only artist who has been caught with his toe in someone else’s chord pool. Recently breakout artist and my personal favorite Grammy winner Sam Smith quietly settled a dispute filed by Tom Petty over similarities between Smith’s award winning “Stay with Me,” and Petty’s immortal “I Won’t Back Down.” Take a listen:

Poll for the comments: does it even matter? All that crap sounds the same, anyway…

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Comments

I’m more concerned about Pharrell’s copyright infringement.

LOL. Seriously though, as long as this judgement doesn’t affect Weird Al’s grammarific parody version, “Word Crimes,” I’m cool. 🙂

What next? Suing the descendents of Samuel F. Smith for using the music to “God Save the Queen” when he wrote “My Country Tis of Thee?” Oh wait, George Frideric Handel also used that music in his Occasional Oratorio and so did Ludwig van Beethoven in seven variations. Sue them all!!!

Of that 7 million, if it ever gets paid at all, how much will go to the lawyers and how much to the artist? (Hint: The dead don’t care about money)

This is a crock. Copyright law should be changed to keep periods short and to allow generous fair use. A little borrowing here and there just isn’t that big a deal.

I always thought that Jethro Tull’s Moths sounded awfully alike to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Both came out within a year of each other. In fact, they sound more alike that this suit.

The only person I know of in this post is Marvin Gaye. I own CDs of his music. “Mercy, Mercy, Me” is righteous.

I do not know anyone else posted here. So, my money is on Mayweather. He’ll make a CD of Pacquiao. “Let’s Get It On.”

I’m thinking thin copyright or even the doctrine of merger. There are only so many combinations of 8 notes which are pleasing to the human ear, and a whole lot of songs out there.

I don’t know. There are only so many chords that exist and chord combinations that make sense. It definately has a similar vibe, but it doesnt’ sound the same at all to me. It’s also kind of nutty to me that Gaye’s estate sued. It’s not like they wrote the song. Copyright law is nuts anyway.

The Sam Smith thing sounds more like Tom Petty’s song and Tom Petty didn’t even sue. Because Tom Petty is cool.

    JPL17 in reply to Lea. | March 11, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    “It’s also kind of nutty to me that Gaye’s estate sued. It’s not like they wrote the song. Copyright law is nuts anyway.”

    Wait a second there, Lea…A copyright is *property*, and, like all other property, it can be passed on to its owner’s heirs when the owner dies.

    Question: Would you work hard your whole life to buy a house if the law said you couldn’t leave the house to your heirs upon your death? Probably not.

    Well, songwriters work that way too: i.e., they’re not likely to work hard their whole lives writing songs (songs that brighten the lives of millions of people, by the way), if they law said they couldn’t leave their copyrights to their heirs when they die.

    So as I see it, the Gaye family is actually providing an important public service to all living + future songwriters, as well as to all living + future music fans. Namely, they’re showing that if you’re a songwriter, yes, it’s worth it to work hard writing great songs because they’ll still have value to and be enforceable by your heirs when you die; and if you’re a music fan, yes, you may still get to hear great new music in the future because the law does still give songwriters some incentive to write great songs.

MouseTheLuckyDog | March 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Well Nona Gaye owes me big time for reducing my opinion of Marvin Gaye by hearing that song. The only two things those songs have in common is that they have the same bassline and they both suck.

If music was copyrighted by it’s bassline then only one song would exist for each genre of Latin music.

So,what could happen next? Pharrell will pay out the 7 Million?

This case is a close call, but to me the jury’s verdict seems to be well-supported by the evidence of substantial similarity.

As a “trained” musician, I found NOTHING similar about the tracks except the vocal stylings and the rhythm track. Melodies (such as they are) have no similarities, harmonic progression not the same, Blurred Lines has a major tonality while the Marvin Gaye piece is more modal, phrasing of both melodies are different as are the hooks. In fact, the Gaye song really has no hook (or chorus)

I can’t believe the Gaye family got away with this.

It’s clear Pharrell is a Gaye fan but musicians are influenced by others all the time.

    JPL17 in reply to wyntre. | March 11, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Did you read the musicologist’s report, or a transcript of her testimony? I expect she had a few things to say about the points you raise.

      wyntre in reply to JPL17. | March 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      My quick analysis of the 2 songs harmonic structure;

      Marvin Gaye: 8 bars 1
      4 bars -1V-V-ii-1
      4 bars – 1V-V-11-1
      Repeat. Then a long jam interlude, harmonically structureless, riffing on one chord

      Blurred Lines is all:
      4 Bars 1
      4 Bars V (Didn’t listen to entire track)
      All pop/rock/RB music relies on a I-1V-V structure

      The “chorus” or “hook” part of Blurred Lines is much more defined, melodically.

      The Gaye song sounds like a jam session.

      Aside from the normal similarities in all pop music I did not hear any blatant rip-off of Gay’s song.

      IMHO

      And the poster above is right. All western music, even classical, relies on similar harmonic and melodic patterns. There are, after all, only 12 notes in our musical system (repeated in higher and lower octaves) and a finite number of harmonies, or chords. Units of 4, 8, 16 and 32 bars are standard for most songs, tunes, even classical pieces.

      Point for me is I absolutely did not hear any rip-off.

      That’s my two cents.

      It would be interesting to read the so-called expert’s report. Got a link to it?

        JPL17 in reply to wyntre. | March 11, 2015 at 10:13 pm

        “It would be interesting to read the so-called expert’s report. Got a link to it?”

        Not yet, but I have access to a copy and will post a link to it here.

        JPL17 in reply to wyntre. | March 12, 2015 at 7:38 am

        Hey wyntre — Here’s a link to a brief submitted by the Gaye family lawyer, which quotes extensively from both sides’ musicologists’ reports, and contains an excellent analysis:

        https://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/239101945?access_key=key-LrhvKR7UL445fg1jRv4G&allow_share=true&escape=false&view_mode=scroll

        In the meantime, I’m still trying to get a link to the actual report and will post it as soon as I find one.

          wyntre in reply to JPL17. | March 12, 2015 at 8:32 am

          Great. I would love to see it. From what I understand, the jury partially ruled based on sheet music of the two songs, which is ridiculous, especially as there is no similarity from the two samples I pulled up online.

          I actually have an MA in musicology and spent decades as a musician so I find this case both fascinating and terrifying. All musicians are influenced by and imitate others.

          I agree with this attorney/musician from Nashville. No copying of melody, lyrics or harmony, as I stated upthread.

          “E. Michael Harrington, a composer and expert on music law at SAE Institute, Nashville, said that the ruling, if it stands, would mean that “plenty of plaintiffs can go crazy and sue everyone.”

          “I’ve never seen a decision that is this poor — the melody wasn’t taken, there were no lyrics taken, there was no chord progressions taken,” he said. “If this is the standard, it’s below floor level it’s so low.”

          http://news.yahoo.com/blurred-lines-verdict-strikes-fear-songwriters-233941179.html;_ylt=AwrBJR645ABVEw0A_yjQtDMD

          JPL17 in reply to JPL17. | March 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm

          The repeated “down dings” without reply to my posts proving once again that it’s so much easier to click a “thumbs down” icon than to post a coherent rebuttal! (Wyntre — This comment doesn’t apply to you at all. Your posts have been refreshingly coherent + insightful.)

          Even more bizarre is the fact that some of my posts weren’t even contentious. E.g., how is it possible to take issue with a comment like, “Here’s a link to a brief [that] quotes extensively from both sides’ musicologists….”?! Apparently someone simply hates copyright.

          P.S. to Wyntre — I’m still trying to get a link to the actual musicologist’s report without having to pay a subscription fee. Meanwhile, you might enjoy reading the brief I linked to, as it quotes large chunks from both musicologists’ reports.

          wyntre in reply to JPL17. | March 12, 2015 at 6:02 pm

          I have now devoted several hours to this ridiculous lawsuit and it’s just as absurd as I thought it would be.
          A couple of points:
          1 – You can’t copyright a “groove” even though the lawsuit claims Thick wanted to recreate a Gaye groove.
          2 – The “Eight essential elements” is pure unadulterated bullcrap. Love how the legal doc lists hook, hook with background vocals, background hooks as completely separate and unrelated items.
          Also love how they take the bass, keyboards and percussion tracks and try to separate them as though they weren’t simply part of the rhythm section. By that logic, no song today could be said to have been “composed” by a single person. Most pro session and touring musicians “compose” their own rhythm section parts. But you don’t see them credited as songwriters.
          Also, there is ZERO discussion of song structure (including melody, harmony and A and B sections) mostly because there isn’t much aside from the first minute or so. Seems to me like “Got to Give it Up” is, at best, an undeveloped idea, or kernel of an idea.
          3 – Turns out the original was from a live performance in London and essentially devolved into a jam session on one chord and then just faded away.
          4 – In most popular music, rhythm section parts are not written. The drummer, bassist, keyboardist know the song structure or harmonies and most of what is developed is essentially improvisational, far different from a composer of written music who writes parts for all instruments.
          The remarks about the bass part being notable because of its two bar structure and several resting beats is hogwash.
          5 – Love the section on how “Got to Give it Up” differs from standard R&B through use of male falsetto, party noise, cowbell and no guitar (a flat out lie). Like none of those features can be found in hundreds of R&B songs. Falsetto? Really? The opinions proffered by the so-called musicologists and ethnomusicologists is quite simply, the musical equivalent of psychobabble.

          That’s my 2 cents.

          Oh, and about the down arrows, I figured Nona was on the thread.

Amy Miller, it’s “bass line,” not “baseline.” /nitpick

Anyway, George Harrison is the first such situation I heard of, back in 1976. He was sued by the composer of the ’60s hit by The Chiffons, “He’s So Fine,” for stealing it in composing “My Sweet Lord.”

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