Robin Thicke – Inspiration, Not Plagiarism- Where’s the Line?on September 9, 2013 at 7:12 pm
Posted In: Legal Disputes
Robin Thicke argues that he sought only inspiration from Marvin Gaye in creating the song of the summer, “Blurred Lines” along with co-writer Pharrell Williams. There are others who contend that he went a lot further.
It’s the latest case of a contemporary artist “borrowing” from the past. “Blurred Lines” is being compared to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up“. The similarities are evident, according to both musicians and musicologists, but the question remains as to whether the hit song crosses the line between inspiration and outright plagiarism.
Copyright Claims, Before the Courtroom
Copyright infringement claims between artists are nothing new in music , but an interesting element of this one is the path that it took even before those representing Gaye’s work have made a legal move. It’s reported that the Gaye family rejected a substantial six figure sum from Thicke over the summer, possibly in response to interviews given by Frankie and Nona Marvisa Gaye, who raised the comparison between the two works earlier this year.
Clearly rebuffed, Thicke and company took the preemptive measure of filing a lawsuit against the Gaye estate in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. This suit seeks a declaratory judgment that “Blurred Lines” doesn’t breach the copyright of the soul legend’s song, which should protect the former’s writers from subsequent legal action.
The Case Against “Blurred Lines”
This analysis by Steve Gordon breaks down the potential cases against Thicke and Pharrell Williams, should Marvin Gaye’s representatives choose to pursue the matter in court. This of course depends on how Robin Thicke’s suit against them is judged, which could add another barrier to their copyright infringement claims.
Unlikely to help Thicke’s case is the fact that this isn’t the first time such comparisons have been raised, with some even involving other songs from the Marvin Gaye canon. Other comparisons contrast Thicke’s “Love After War” with Gaye’s “After the Dance.
There’s another potential lawsuit involving “Blurred Lines”, with Bridgeport Music Inc. finding similarities to George Clinton‘s “Sexy Ways,” to which it owns the copyright. Fighting on multiple fronts, Thicke is also attempting to neuter Bridgeport’s claim before it poses a legal challenge. In contrast to the situation with Gaye, though, Clinton is still around to comment and has dismissed the idea that his work has been plagiarized.
Going back to the original claims and listening to the songs back-to-back, it’s difficult to deny the similarities with “Got to Give It Up” and the writers of “Blurred Lines” are clearly embracing the comparison, though not the allegations. The bass line is strikingly similar to Marvin Gaye’s work, but the vocals and lyrics add a different dimension that may yet see Thicke and Williams head off the legal challenges before they begin.
As with all copyright infringement cases, and indeed music in general, sound is subjective and opinions will vary as to whether this is inspiration or plagiarism. Which side do you take?