Great artists steal, questionable artists lose copyright suits: Robin Thicke and the “Blurred Lines” suit

12 Mar

The jury has spoken: “Blurred Lines” is a rip-off of “Got to Give It Up,” and Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke owe the family of Marvin Gaye $7.3 million.

Robin Thicke - now with a reason to sweat Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ambism/

Robin Thicke, now with even more reasons to sweat
Source: Ambism

And Robin Thicke has spoken: he is a music weasel.

This has been an emotional case since the Gaye family began the suit in August 2013. Marvin Gaye was a true musical genius, and his 1977 song about getting up the courage to get out on the dance floor is a funky tune that makes it nearly impossible to stay still. Gaye died way too young – at the hands of his own father, no less – and his children are rightly concerned about preserving his legacy.

Then you have “Blurred Lines,” which is as much of an ear worm as “Got to Give It Up” yet has none of the innovation and taste of the Gaye classic. Its insidious popularity was stoked by a bazillion views of its video featuring Live Nude Girls. It’s also responsible for your grandmother knowing what twerking is, thanks to Miley Cyrus joining Thicke at the VMAs.

What is fascinating about this case is that the Gayes do not have the rights to the produced song, only the sheet music. The prosecution brought in musicologists to instruct the jury on what to look for on paper that would constitute plagiarism, since the family couldn’t play the version of the song most people are familiar with.

Marvin GayeA casual listener to both songs would hear “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” have a lot in common: cowbell, a bass-driven groove, crowd noise and so on. (To my ear, they are much more alike than “Free Fallin'” and “Stay With Me”, an unintentional incident of plagiarism that was settled between the artists without a lawsuit.) But if you had to examine the chord changes on paper, I’m not sure the similarities would be obvious.

Making the trial even weirder, Robin Thicke ducked responsibility for creating the contentious song in the first place, saying Pharrell Williams wrote pretty much everything because Thicke was too drunk and high to do so. In his deposition excerpted in The Hollywood Reporter, he admitted:

I was high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted — I  — I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit. So I started kind of convincing myself that I was a little more part of it than I was and I — because I didn’t want him — I wanted some credit for this big hit. But the reality is, is that Pharrell had the beat and he wrote almost every single part of the song.”

Once they heard that, I wonder if the jury’s musical morality overran the facts of the case. The good people in the jury box probably looked at Thicke, who threw his songwriting partner under the bus while also admitting he was jealous and lazy, and thought, “I don’t care if there isn’t a single note in common. This sorry excuse of a music weasel doesn’t deserve a dime.”

You know who I’m worried about now, though? “Weird Al” Yankovic. Now his song is a work of true genius:

See you on the flip side …

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4 Responses to “Great artists steal, questionable artists lose copyright suits: Robin Thicke and the “Blurred Lines” suit”

  1. Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews) March 12, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    A bit of a counterpoint here – I agree that Thicke has lost his way, professionally and emotionally, but I do think he has a core of talent (not unlike Lenny Kravitz) that is as much homage as it is pure origination. I’ve seen a lot of unfulfilled promise in his work, and I keep holding out hope: http://reelroyreviews.com/2014/03/13/cant-get-no-respect-robin-thicke-2014-tour/

    • lpon45 March 12, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Robin is his own worst enemy. If he has talent he needs to lead with it and not the personal and professional drama. I wish him well.

  2. Philip Sherman March 15, 2015 at 8:09 am #

    Nicely written as always, Lisa.

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