The lines were blurred as to whether Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 disco song, “Got to Give it Up.” Their song, “Blurred Lines,” was the biggest hit of 2013. Gaye’s family claimed Thicke copied the song without permission and brought the case to trial in 2015. After a seven day trial, the jury initially awarded Gaye’s family a damages award of more than $7 million. The jury was only able to rely on the sheet music, and not on recordings of the two songs.
On March 21, 2018, in a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit upheld the jury’s finding that Thicke and William’s song “Blurred Lines” infringed on Gaye’s copyright song. The court also awarded damages in the amount of $5.3 million. The Gaye estate will also receive 50 cents per interest on future revenue from the song.
Opponents of the case warned that the suit could have a “chilling effect on creativity.” In her dissent, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen said the decision allowed the copyright of something that had never been copyrighted before: musical style. She said Thicke’s song only resembled Gaye’s in style and that the decision “strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere.” Over 200 musicians filed a brief in favor of Thicke and Williams, saying that the ruling would have an “adverse impact…on the music industry and would “eliminate[e] any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying.”
The majority rejected the idea that the decision was a devastating blow on music. The court suggested that the case actually rested on the skills of Thicke’s attorneys. Gaye’s attorney applauded the ruling, saying that the decision encourages writers to create original work.
Drawing from the court’s dissent, Thicke’s attorney stated that there would be further appeal.