Blurring Some Lines

Blurring Some Lines

The 9th Circuit upheld an appeal challenging a verdict against artists Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, authors of “Blurred Lines,” for infringement of the iconic Marvin Gaye song “Got To Give It Up.” The Circuit decision focused on the sound and style of the song in finding infringement, determining that “musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression . . . [but] is comprised of a large array of elements.”

Since the court ruled in favor of the Gaye family in early March, there have been concerns that the 9th Circuit expanded what can constitute infringement, opening the door for infringement lawsuits based on some intangible element (such as a vibe or feeling) that is not copyrightable rather than the way a song was written.

This would present serious problems for songwriters, who would need to be extra cautious to block out any and all outside influences on their work to protect against infringement claims – something that is very difficult to do, as it is almost inevitable that after growing up listening to music, there would be some influence on work you created later in life.

However, not everyone shares the concern that this outcome will chill artist creativity. Viewing this as just another run-of-the-mill infringement case, some found the ruling fair – based on established precedent and properly left to a jury.

Thicke and Pharrell have hinted that an appeal might be in the works. The possibility of which is reflected in dissenting Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, “The majority allows the Gayes to accomplish what no one has before: copyright a musical style. . . [T]he majority establishes a dangerous precedent that strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere.”

Here is a link to the published opinion: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/03/21/15-56880.pdf

Article by Nicole Sumida, J.D. Candidate.
©2018. Buche & Associates, P.C.