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212 artists back Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in Blurred Lines appeal

By | Published on Wednesday 31 August 2016

Blurred Lines

No less than 212 artists have come out in support of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams as they attempt to overturn the ruling in the big fat ‘Blurred Lines’ plagiarism case.

The likes of John Oates, Linkin Park, Jennifer Hudson, The Go-Gos, film composer Hans Zimmer and production duo Stargate are among the eclectic band of musicians who reckon that the ruling in the ‘Blurred Lines’ case set a dangerous precedent by confusing inspiration with infringement.

As much previously reported, Thicke and Pharrell were accused of ripping off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ on their big hit. It was actually the terrible twosome who first went legal over those claims, in a bid to secure confirmation that there was no infringement, but it backfired and ultimately a jury sided with the Marvin Gaye Estate, that ‘Blurred Lines’ had indeed ripped of ‘Got To Give It Up’.

Thicke and Pharrell filed their appeal against that judgement last week. At the heart of that appeal is an argument that was also key to duo’s original case in court, which basically centres on some technicalities of American copyright law.

The lawsuit was over the copyright in the song, not the recording, and under the specific laws of relevance here only the song as filed with the US Copyright Office is protected. Lawyers for Thicke and Pharrell argued that any similarities between the two tracks were because ‘Blurred Lines’ had some elements in common with the recorded version of ‘Got To Give It Up’, but those elements are not actually in the sheet music for the latter song, and are therefore not protected by copyright, so can’t be infringed.

The judge overseeing the case agreed with Thicke and Pharrell’s lawyers with regard to what was specifically protected by copyright, ie the core composition of the song, which is why he banned the playing of the famous recording of ‘Got To Give It Up’ in the courtroom. But, say those same lawyers in their appeal, the judge failed to properly brief and guide the jury with regards these technicalities resulting, they say, in the wrong ruling.

However, the celeb-backed amicus brief filed with the appeals court yesterday – also signed by members of Train, Tears For Fears, Fall Out Boy, The Black Crowes, Tool, Weezer and more – focuses less on copyright law complexities, and more on the potential impact the ‘Blurred Lines’ ruling has on the creative process of the songwriter.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the brief states: “The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works. All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre. By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is”.

The brief goes on to state that ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got To Give It Up’ “do not have similar melodies; the two songs do not even share a single melodic phrase”, and instead the similarities between the two records is about “feel” and “groove”. It then observes that Gaye himself was heavily influenced by the work of other artists, including Frank Sinatra, Smokey Robinson, Nat ‘King’ Cole and James Brown.

The filing concludes: “Such a result, if allowed to stand, is very dangerous to the music community, is certain to stifle future creativity, and ultimately does a disservice to past songwriters as well. One can only imagine what our music would have sounded like if David Bowie would have been afraid to draw from Shirley Bassey, or if the Beatles would have been afraid to draw from Chuck Berry, or if Elton John would have been afraid to draw from the Beatles, or if Elvis Presley would have been afraid to draw from his many influences”.

Ten of those pesky musicologists have also filed an amicus brief in support of Thicke and Pharrell, also discussing the potential impact of the ‘Blurred Lines’ ruling if it’s allowed to stand, as well as more of the copyright complexity stuff too. “There can be no genuine disagreement among experts as to the fact that there is no harmonic similarity between ‘Blurred’ and ‘Give’ because the chord progressions in both works were entirely different”, they wrote in their court filing.

Other third party amicus briefs are now expected in this case, which is being watched closely by the entire music community.