In The Thicke of Things

I was pretty curious when I first heard about the continuing lawsuits that have been flying back and forth between Robin Thicke and his label and the children of Marvin Gaye.  The suits (I don’t really know how many!) are because of Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”.

I think what really might have sparked this whole fuss was when Thicke gave an interview in GQ Magazine where he said:

“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”

When the Gaye family started to make noises about the similarities between the two songs, Thicke actually threw the initial punch by suing the Gaye family FIRST, claiming that there were no similarities.  I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of anyone doing that before.  It was supposedly to “protect” the song, which was was No.1 on Billboard for 12 weeks in 2013, and a huge hit for Thicke and his producers Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr. It was also up for, but didn’t win, a Grammy for best song.

Since then, the accusations have been flying back and forth, with the Gaye family also accusing Thicke of copying Marvin Gaye’s song “After The Dance” for his song “Love After War”.  But instead of talking lawsuits for a moment, let’s have a listen.

If you haven’t already heard it, here is Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”:

And now, here is Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”:

The usual elements that are brought up in song copyright suits are melody and lyrics, which is why those are the parts that you submit when you are creating a documented copyright for a song.  You can’t copyright a chord progression or a title, although occasionally they have come up as part of a suit.  In this case, the issue is the feel and/or beat, which is created by the percussion, drums and bass.  The chord progressions in each song (and the key, for that matter) are different.  The lyrics and melody (where there is one) are different.

So has there been an infringement?

For what it’s worth, here’s what I think.  They are an awful lot alike because of that groove. Whether, technically speaking, a similar groove will be enough to claim copyright infringement, I will leave that up to the courts.  I’ve read arguments on both sides, one claiming that Pharrell, who I admire a lot, likes to pay “homage” to those who influenced him and what harm is there in that?  But that groove is really, really similar.

I could almost write the whole thing off if I thought to myself that Thicke had subliminally come up with that groove because the song was ‘way back in his memory somewhere.  But his interview says it all.  He liked the groove in that song and they (for the lack of a better word) copied it.  It was, in that respect, intentional.

What do you think?  Where do the lines get crossed?


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