‘Blurred Lines’ verdict could reshape intellectual property rules for music industry, legal experts say

Posted
by Jay Pate

In a landmark intellectual property ruling, jurors in Los Angeles recently ruled that musicians Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke violated the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up” when they co-wrote Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” The jury awarded Gaye’s children more than $7.3 million in damages, stating that “Blurred Lines” had crossed the boundary between pastiche and plagiarism in borrowing the “vibe” of “Got To Give It Up.”

Many music industry analysts have reacted with surprise to the “Blurred Lines” verdict. Deadspin writer Michaelangelo Matos wrote that jurors may have based their decision on a similar mood evoked by the two songs despite instructions from the judge in the case to concentrate on the issue of compositional similarities, a development that he called “nefarious:”

“Even if the estate’s alarming victory doesn’t extend a song’s copyright from composition of music and lyrics to production quality and ‘feel’—the judge specifically rejected the latter argument before the case went to trial, leaving the case to be decided entirely by a sheet-music comparison— the verdict is still nefarious. For all their similarities, ‘Blurred Lines’ differs substantially and audibly from ‘Got to Give It Up’ in both melody and lyrics—even lyrical topic, unless you happen to think all songs about dancing are the same.”

Calling the verdict “a blow to creative expression,” LA Times critic Randall Roberts said that the ruling could help to redefine what constitutes infringement in the realm of popular music:

“Riffing on ideas is part of the deal [in pop music] and is hardly theft. The notion that Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ and Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’ share anything other than what Pharrell described in testimony as ‘feel, not infringement’ seemed ridiculous.”

Legal experts in intellectual property have also weighed in on the verdict in the “Blurred Lines” copyright case, noting that it could mean significant changes in copyright law. “Today’s successful verdict, with the odds more than stacked against the Marvin Gaye estate, could redefine what copyright infringement means for recording artists,” noted attorney Glen Rothstein:

“Paying homage to musical influences was an acceptable, and indeed commonplace way of conducting business and even showing respect for one’s musical idols, (but) after today, doubt has been cast on where the line will be drawn for copyright infringement purposes.”

Lawyers for Marvin Gaye’s family have announced that they will seek an injunction against “Blurred Lines,” which would allow them to negotiate royalties, songwriting credits, and other concessions. Thicke and Williams are expected to appeal the verdict in the case.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and Intellectual Property Litigation

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have handled hundreds of intellectual property and commercial litigation cases. Our firm has handled cases ranging in value from tens of thousands of dollars to tens of millions. During these cases, our attorneys have successfully represented businesses of all sizes, ranging from small, local businesses to some of the largest multinational corporations in the world.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, our attorneys have handled numerous patent matters, including prosecuting claims for trademark infringement and for patent rights interference. We have handled claims brought by a large company for infringement of its rail car patent, claims by an inventor for infringement of a childcare product patent, and claims by against a Fortune 500 company for infringement of an Israeli company’s wireless technology patent. Our law firm also filed a case against a large U.S. pharmaceutical company over alleged interference with patent rights for liposome technology. Currently, we are representing an international businessman in a trademark infringement lawsuit relating to the diamond and jewelry business.

Beyond our specific experience in the field of intellectual property, our ability to prosecute patent infringement action is aided by our extensive trial experience in general. While technical knowledge and familiarity with patent rules is a must for attorneys handling patent infringement claims, there is no substitute for courtroom experience.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, our seasoned litigators have the experience to take even the most complex patent case and explain it in terms a jury can understand. We have a track record of proven success representing businesses large and small. Several of our trial lawyers are board certified* and many of them have been selected as Super Lawyers in the State of Texas** for several years in a row. Our firm is AV rated, the highest legal and ethical ranking available from the leasing law firm ranking service, Martindale-Hubbell.

If you or your company is in need of representation in an intellectual property matter, contact us for a free consultation by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form.

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* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

** Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.