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‘Blurred Lines’ Verdict: Music Lawyers Weigh In

Beyond penalties of $7.4 million for infringement and a cut of the track's profits ("Blurred Lines" racked up $16 million since its 2013 release), the sting goes much deeper, according to these four…

The “Blurred Lines” verdict — which ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams‘ megahit song was improperly drawn from Marvin Gaye‘s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” — has sent a ripple throughout the music industry, as artists consider the ramifications of the judgment.

‘Blurred Lines’ Trial Verdict: Jury Rules Against Pharrell Williams & Robin Thicke

Beyond penalties of $7.4 million for infringement and a cut of the track’s profits (“Blurred Lines” racked up $16 million since its 2013 release), the sting goes much deeper, according to these four lawyers:

Dina Lapolt
LaPolt Law, P.C.
Clients: deadmau5, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler

“The attorney for Thicke, Williams and T.I. was spot-on during the trial’s opening arguments when he said ‘no one owns a genre or a style or a groove.’ Although Thicke and Williams admitted prior to the lawsuit that their songwriting was influenced by Gaye, it’s a sad day indeed when being influenced by an artist is considered copyright infringement. … There’s also a good chance the jury was biased against the losing side because Thicke testified that he had been drunk and high while recording ‘Blurred Lines.’ This is not the basis for a decision on copyright infringement. And if any of the jurors think Thicke is the first pop star to record a hit song while under the influence, they must have been raised under a rock.”

Lawrence Iser
Kinsella, Weitzman, Iser, Kump & Aldisert LLP
Clients: Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, David Byrne

“I find some solace in the fact that the jury found it isn’t willful. It means that Williams and Thicke — who admitted he didn’t write it — didn’t set out to copy ‘Got to Give It Up.’ When you start with that fact, the jury blurred the lines between protectable elements of the musical composition and what is unprotectable, which is a musical style or genre, the groove exemplified by Marvin Gaye. …  The purpose of the Copyright Act is to advance the arts. When you go into a recording studio, you borrow from the past to move the art forward. I think that’s all that happened.”

Jonathan Altschul
Fox Rothschild LLP
Clients: Smokey Robinson, Phil Spector

“Concerns that this ruling will cause a chilling effect on the artistic community are probably overblown. This was not an instance of a madman coming out of the weeds and claiming infringement against a well-known artist. Marvin Gaye is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Robin Thicke had reportedly given damaging interviews stating that he wanted to write a song like ‘Got to Give It Up.’ As many practicing music attorneys have experienced, issues regarding the lines between inspiration, accidental influence and infringement arise from time to time and are usually settled based upon the opinions of a handful of well-respected musicologists.”

Robert Jacobs
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

“Yes, the $7.3 million verdict delivered in the ‘Blurred Lines’ case is massive. But will it really affect how songwriters and producers practice their craft or how labels and publishers decide what they will release? If history is any lesson, the answer is probably not. While music infringement disputes rarely go to trial, the big-ticket ones that have — including the George Harrison ($1.6 million in damages; $4.1 million when adjusted for inflation) and Michael Bolton ($5.4 million; $8.6 million inflated) cases — show what can happen when a court or jury finds liability. When all is said and done (and barring a change as a result of post-trial or appellate proceedings), the damages award in the ‘Blurred Lines’ trial is consistent with those precedents.”

–Additional reporting by Andrew Hampp and Jem Aswad