In a verdict that could have wide-ranging implications for music as intellectual property, a Los Angeles jury declared yesterday that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke—two of the co-writers of “Blurred Lines,” a 2013 megahit for Thicke—stole elements of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”
Williams and Thicke were ordered to pay a total of just under $7.4 million in damages and compensation to the heirs of Gaye, who died in 1984. Clifford Harris Jr., the rapper who performs as T.I. and is credited as the third co-writer of “Blurred Lines,” was not found to be liable; nor was Interscope, the label that released Thicke’s song.
Williams, Thicke, and T.I. released a statement declaring their innocence, calling the verdict “a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” and saying they are “considering their options” to fight the verdict.
In the courtroom, Marvin Gaye’s daughter Nona cried tears of joy when she heard the verdict. “Right now, I feel free,” she told reporters. “Free from…Pharrell Williams’s and Robin Thicke’s chains and what they tried to keep on us and the lies that were told.”
The trial was closely watched across the music community because Gaye’s family’s claims of theft hinged not on the words or melody of “Blurred Lines” but rather on its instrumental backing track, which closely resembles that of “Got to Give It Up.”
A key point of debate in the trial was whether such a resemblance could be legally construed as intellectual property theft—particularly since “Got to Give It Up” was originally released in an era when a song’s copyright was held to inhere in its sheet music, not in its recording. (Now, both sheet music and recordings are routinely registered for copyright.)
Intellectual property attorney Glen Rothstein told the Associated Press that “the Gaye verdict is precedential in that whereas prior to today, it was generally understood that paying homage to musical influences was an acceptable, and indeed commonplace way of conducting business and even showing respect for one’s musical idols, after today, doubt has been cast on where the line will be drawn for copyright infringement purposes.”
Gaye family attorney Richard Busch told Rolling Stone that the family will seek an injunction blocking further sale and distribution of “Blurred Lines” “unless and until we can reach an agreement with those guys on the other side about how future monies that are received will be shared.”
Busch dismissed claims that the verdict would significantly affect the music industry as a whole. “I still see the wind blowing,” he said after the verdict, “and I still see the clouds in the sky. The world has not come to an end. The music industry will go on.”