With the “Blurred Lines” trial underway in Los Angeles this week, songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams are defending their 2013 smash song against claims it was improperly derived from Marvin Gaye‘s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”
There have been complex twists and turns over the last year and a half that are liable to lose some of those even watching the issue closely. To fill you in on what may prove to be a landmark copyright ruling, here are seven key things you should know as the trial moves ahead:
1. This lawsuit was originally brought by Thicke, Williams and song co-writer Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr. as preemptive attempt to protect “Blurred Lines” from claims of being a rip-off. Following, Gaye’s children, Frankie Gaye and Nona Gaye, brought counterclaims that alleged Thicke’s “Marvin Gaye fixation” had led to the misappropriation of two songs — “Blurred Lines” and 2011’s “Love After War,” which was not written or produced by Williams.
2. There are supposedly eight “similarities” identified between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give it Up,” according to the Gayes’ expert musicologists. Those are: “(1) the signature phrase in the main vocal melodies; (2) the hooks; (3) the hooks with backup vocals; (4) the core theme in ‘Blurred Lines’ and backup hook in ‘Got to Give it Up’; (5) the backup hooks; (6) the bass melodies; (7) the keyboard parts; and (8) the unusual percussion choices.” Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have argued the defendant is attempting to claim ownership of an entire genre.
3. There are several players who are no longer involved in this lawsuit. Sony/ATV was previously named in the Gaye family lawsuit, under its EMI April subsidiary, for allegedly breaching its obligations to protect the Gaye catalogue. The Gaye family claimed EMI also administered rights on “Blurred Lines” and didn’t want Gaye’s family getting in the way of the song’s ongoing success. The Gayes and EMI settled under private terms.
Bridgeport Music was listed in Thicke and Williams’ initial suit, suggesting that threats were being made by the rights-holder of Funkadelic‘s song “Sexy Ways.” Soon thereafter, George Clinton, who once led Funkadelic and has feuded with Bridgeport over the years, tweeted his belief there was no sample in Thicke’s song. An agreement was made and Bridgeport Music was removed from the suit.
4. In October, Williams and Thicke failed to win the case on summary judgment, but there was a silver lining for the pop stars. In that case, the judge looked to old standards under the 1909 Copyright Act and concluded that the Gaye family hadn’t sufficiently shown it made necessary deposits of the “Got to Give It Up” sound recording at the Copyright Office in the 1970s. Only the sheet music compositions are copyrighted and, as such, he said Gaye’s copyrights on the song were limited to the sheet music compositions, which do not include many elements of the recording and those above mentioned “similarities.”
5. Now, the Gaye family is not be allowed to introduce the original “Got to Give It Up” recording at trial so a jury can compare it to “Blurred Lines.” Since Gaye’s songs came out before copyright law changed in 1978, the judge has decided only a stripped-down version of the song can be played in court.
6. Attorneys on both sides have given some estimation of potential damages. The Gaye family claims Thick and Williams’ profits from the track totaled roughly $40 million and that according to general practices for licensing, they are due about half of that. The “Blurred Lines” side responded saying the song was not nearly that profitable and argued that the track’s success wasn’t due entirely to the music — noting that the racy video and social media promotions should also be considered.
7. Finally, there’s the now infamous deposition where Thicke admitted drug use and lying to the media about the creation of “Blurred Lines.” His attorney wants much of this deemed irrelevant and prejudicial. He has stated that Thicke’s comments to the press about being inspired by Gaye doesn’t mean much since they stipulate to the fact that the singer had access to the song. Still, the Gaye camp isn’t likely about to let this go. The family believes that inconsistent comments are “probative of credibility” and that “Thicke has never explained his absolutely contradictory sworn and verified interrogatory responses served in this case.” This could lead to an attempt to impeach Thicke on the witness stand.
Listen to the two songs here:
The trial is expected to run for eight days and include testimony from Williams, T.I., and Thicke’s ex-wife Paula Patton, who co-wrote “Love After War.”
Thicke took the stand Wednesday, following Tuesday’s opening statements. His testimony included a short piano medley to demonstrate the differences of “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up” and show that many songs share similar chords and melodies without copying one another.