Essay: Blurred lines and Petty squabbles; Plagiarism in contemporary pop music

Music copyright trials are uncommon, but allegations that a song copies another artist’s work are frequent. For the purpose of this essay, my main focus will be on two very recent cases, Thicke vs Gaye and Smith vs Petty. In the recent case of Thicke and Williams vs Gaye, there remains a somewhat unresolved issue, a legal controversy, etc.

‘ You need to explain the legal and factual frameworks that are necessary to understand your article.
‘ Support your assertions with facts and with authors who have recognized a similar problem.

Thesis development
(several sections, each with its own thematic subheading)

‘ You need to develop your thesis, i.e., you need to prove your point.
‘ Find arguments to support your thesis.
‘ Use examples from class, including class activities, class discussions, and required readings.
‘ Make reference to theories and problems analyzed in class.
‘ Think of possible counterarguments and discuss them.
‘ Analyze the law.
‘ This is your own critical analysis of the law and how it bears on the problem you identified.
‘ Make your analysis in light of the theoretical framework analyzed in class, including the notions of law, traditions, functions, dysfunctions, sources, types of law, and classifications.
‘ Consider policy arguments and social consequences of your arguments.
‘ Include the implications and connections that are necessary to a full understanding of your point.
‘ Use thematic subheadings to introduce every argument, idea, or example.

The creation of music, as with other creations of the mind, can be regarded as an aspect of a person’s personality, or put another way, a property right. (O’Sullivan)

Recently, singers Sam Smith and Tom Petty reached an amicable agreement that awarded song writing acknowledgment to Petty on Smith’s song, “Stay With Me.”
The agreement was reached because Smith’s song bears a resemblance to Petty’s hit “I Won’t Back Down.”

The case of Thicke vs Gaye
A jury’s verdict that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke copied Marvin Gaye’s music to create their hit song “Blurred Lines” has the potential to change how musicians work and could open the door to new copyright claims. Following a lengthy trial, the pair were found guilty of copying the late music icon’s song ‘Got to Give It Up’ for their track Blurred Lines. Originally released in 1977, ‘Got to Give It Up’ became a worldwide hit for the now deceased Marvin Gaye. Marvin’s children started legal proceedings in 2013.

An eight-person jury determined that Williams and Thicke copied elements of Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” and ordered the pair to pay nearly $7.4 million to the late singer’s three children.
Once in this material form, the protection of the copyright legislation comes into effect without any formal procedure.

Sam Smith’s biggest and perhaps most well known hit ‘Stay With Me’ was a contender for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and it scooped up both.The song has, however, attracted considerable attention of late, with many people both inside and outside of the music industry claiming that it bore an uncanny resemblance to Tom Petty’s well known song ‘I won’t back down’, released in 1989.Sam claimed he had never actually heard Tom Petty’s song although this type of evidence is rarely relevant in a copyright infringement case. Speaking to CBC News, Sam stated:’it [the song resemblance] was a complete accident ‘ I am 22 years old . . . I’ve never listened to that song.’ Had the case proceeded to court, Tom and his co-writer Jeff Lynne would have had the burden of proof and would have had to show that their song was substantially similar to Sam’s. But this case didn’t proceed down the usual route. Sam’s legal team took it upon themselves to compare the songs and decided to seek an amicable settlement. This included that Tom and Jeff were added to the list of writers of ‘Stay With Me’.Interestingly, George Harrison, who provided acoustic guitar and backing vocals on ‘Don’t Back Down’, was involved with in a copyright case back in 1971 and this provided guidance to Sam’s lawyers. Back in ’71, George was accused of copying a Chiffons song, ‘He’s So Fine.’ George’s hit ‘My Sweet Lord,’ supposedly borrowed from the harmony and melody of the original song. The Court concluded that In George’s case, the court came to the conclusion that the former Beatle had subconsciously appropriated musical ideas from ‘He’s So Fine.’
Some well-known infringement cases where it was/was not found:

George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord was found to have infringed The Chiffons He’s So Fine.
The estate of Roy Orbison was not so successful when they sued for infringement of Pretty Woman by 2Live Crew, whose song was considered to be a parody and thus not infringing of American copyright law.

Check out the Bolivian folk song, Llorando se fue transformed (without permission) into the Lambada by Brazilian band, Kaoma and later on become the backing to Jennifer Lopez’s song, On the Floor. Try to find out whether she has paid royalties ‘ and to whom.
Copyright in Ireland

As this case occurred in the United States, there is a system of copyright registration known as ‘copyrighting’ songs involved. However, in Ireland, this is not necessary.
3. What is the controversy (the ‘who cares’ factor)?
The human interest aspect.

But on Wednesday, Robin and Pharrell’s lawyer Howard E. King confirmed they are planning to appeal.

“We owe it to songwriters around the world to make sure this verdict doesn’t stand,” King told Fox Business Network.

King is insistent in his argument that Thicke and Williams ” wrote the song Blurred Lines from their hearts and souls and no other source.’
Unhappy with the current ruling, the legal team of Thicke and Williams are currently planning an appeal, trying to ensure that the current verdict does not stand.

Following the guilty verdict, Marvin’s family were awarded nearly $7.4 million in damages, with the late singer’s daughter Nona explaining how jubilant they are.
Marvin’s children started legal proceedings in 2013.
4. What is the law, literature, academic commentary? (this is core, you can start here)
There is a blanket licence from the MCPS in respect of all copyright music in its repertoire for television programmes independently commissioned from independent production companies for RTE and for UK broadcasters as well. Usually the copyright owner of a piece of popular music is not the composer himself but his music publisher, often the arm of a major record company. Copyright owners of music are usually identified on the sound recording and their consent is usually obtained through the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.(IMRO)
The only concern some composers might have is that of plagiarism, i.e. somebody else saying they had written the work. To protect against this, it is common practice when a composer or songwriter creates a piece of music to record it on a CD or write it out in manuscript form and lodge it in a safe place such as with a solicitor or a bank manager. Alternatively, posting it by registered mail to himself/herself also protects against plagiarism. In this way if a dispute regarding ownership arises he/she will be in a position to prove that it was in existence at a particular date (i.e. the date stamped on the registered mail envelope or the recorded date of receipt by the solicitor).
5. Analyse, draw together, what do you think?
Intenti Sam’s legal team used the same kind of analysis that was carried out in the earlier case, which led them to the decision to settle amicably.

There is a question of the subconscious mind involved with regard to any plagiarism case.
it’s possible for two people to come up with the same melodies without having heard each other’s work? Or do you think this is more likely to be a case of cryptomnesia? Cryptomnesia is a type of plagiarism that involves a forgotten memory. You might have read something or heard a piece of music which you then forget about, and go on to write or create the same piece, thinking that you are the original artist. You can read more about cryptomnesia here.

6. Recommendations for reform.
With regard to cases such as this, it is difficult to be entirely prescriptive. The Blurred Lines’ verdict is very likely to alter the future of the music business. The potential legacy of this ruling is that it will make songwriters more conservative, and possibly inhibit the potential for new music. The music industry may feel new constraints in the coming years as artists – and lawyers – sort through the verdict and its implications.
Now that the song ‘Blurred Lines’ has been well established since its release into the public domain, the song cannot simply be dismissed. However, the Gaye family are now seeking an injunction against “Blurred Lines,” aiming to negotiate for royalties and songwriting credits in the name of their late father’s estate.

Howard King, lead attorney for Thicke and Williams, told jurors in closing arguments that a verdict for the Gaye family would have a chilling effect on musicians’ trying to evoke an era or create an homage to the sound of earlier musicians. Williams contended during the trial that he was only trying to mimic the “feel” of Gaye’s late 1970s music, but insisted he did not use elements of his idol’s work.
“Today’s successful verdict, with the odds more than stacked against the Marvin Gaye estate, could redefine what copyright infringement means for recording artists,” said Glen Rothstein, an intellectual property attorney with the firm Greenberg Glusker.
“The Gaye verdict is precedential in that whereas prior to today, it was generally understood that paying homage to musical influences was an acceptable, and indeed commonplace way of conducting business and even showing respect for one’s musical idols, after today, doubt has been cast on where the line will be drawn for copyright infringement purposes,” Rothstein said.

AP Entertainment Writer

Levy said that while the verdict will likely make musicians and record labels more cautious, it won’t stop artists from using others’ works as inspiration.
“Are people going to stop writing songs inspired in homage to what’s come before? I don’t think so,” he said.
Levy said the size of the judgment for the Gaye family was surprising, as well as the fact the case even went this far.
“I think the biggest surprise here is this case didn’t have to move to trial,” he said. “Many cases of this nature are brought and either dismissed or settle.”


IMRO is a performing rights society and its role is outlined above.
Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Ireland Limited (MCPS) also represents copyright owners primarily music publishers (as opposed to the owners of the copyright in sound recordings) and their role in relation to film production is to negotiate synchronisation licences in respect of existing musical works as opposed to specially commissioned music.
Phonograph Performance Ireland Limited (PPI) (the English equivalent is Phonograph Performance Limited (PPL) collects revenue in respect of the public performance of sound recordings on TV and video, discos pubs etc and primarily represents the multi national record companies.

Williams is a seven-time Grammy Award winner whose songs he’s either performed or produced have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. His hit “Happy” has helped make him a household name, as has his work as a judge on NBC’s music competition show, “The Voice.”
“It’s much to Pharrell’s advantage that he is at a high point in his career,” Levy said.
Thicke’s career may have more issues as a result of Tuesday’s verdict, since “Blurred Lines” was a global hit and his follow-up effort failed to connect with audiences, Levy said.
Despite the verdict, Levy predicted that “Blurred Lines” will continue to make plenty of money for Williams, Thicke and in all likelihood the Gaye family. “People aren’t going to stop playing it,” Levy said, adding that it will one day achieve a nostalgic status that other artists’ songs now have. “It’s not just going to disappear.”

– See more at:

An Open Letter from the Children of Marvin Gaye 3/18/15

It has been nearly 38 years since its initial release: tastes change, trends evolve, but we should all be able to agree that it’s a testament to the enduring power of ‘Got to Give It Up’ that we have arrived at this juncture with Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams, at all. The fact that they have openly acknowledged their respect and admiration for the song is public knowledge, and further proof of its resonance with an entirely new generation of music fans.
Like most artists, they could have licensed and secured the song for appropriate usage; a simple procedure usually arranged in advance of the song’s release. This did not happen. We would have welcomed a conversation with them before the release of their work. This also did not happen.

Instead of licensing our father’s song and giving him the appropriate songwriter credit, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams released ‘Blurred Lines’ and then filed a lawsuit against the Gaye family.

, forcing us into court. They sought to quickly affirm that their song was ‘starkly different,’ than ‘Got to Give It Up.’ The Judge denied their motion for Summary Judgement, and a jury was charged with determining the ‘extrinsic and intrinsic similarities’ of the songs. The jury has spoken.

We wanted to also make clear that the jury was not permitted to listen to the actual sound recording of ‘Got to Give It Up.’ Our dad’s powerful vocal performance of his own song along with unique background sounds were eliminated from the trial, and the copyright infringement was based entirely on the similarity of the basic musical compositions, not on ‘style,’ or ‘feel,’ or ‘era,’ or ‘genre.’ His song is so iconic that its basic composition stood strong. We feel this further amplifies the soundness of the verdict.

Like all music fans, we have an added appreciation for songs that touch us in mysterious ways. Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams certainly have a right to be inspired by ‘Got to Give It Up’ but as the jury ruled, they did not have the right to use it without permission as a blueprint for a track they were constructing.

Great artists like our dad intentionally build their music to last, but we as the caretakers of such treasures, have an obligation to be vigilant about preserving the integrity of the music so that future generations understand its origins and feel its effect as the artist intended, and to assure that it retains its value.

We feel as many do that, our father, Marvin Gaye, is an artist for the ages. But whether we’re talking about a work created 50 years ago or a work created 50 years from now ‘ protecting the legacy of original artistry is not a personal obligation, but a universal commitment in support of enduring creative achievement, encouraging future artists to also aim for new ground and their own legacies. That is what copyright laws help us do; they give people the incentive to write original songs and then help protect those songs.

Our dad spent his life writing music- that is his legacy to us all- he wrote from his heart and was a brilliant songwriter, arranger, producer and one-of-a-kind vocalist. If he were alive today, we feel he would embrace the technology available to artists and the diverse music choices and spaces accessible to fans who can stream a song at a moment’s notice. But we also know he would be vigilant about safeguarding the artist’s rights; a sacred devotion to not only the artist, but key in encouraging and supporting innovation. He also gave credit where credit is due.

Howard King, the attorney for Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams stated after the verdict: ‘We owe it to songwriters around the world to make sure this verdict doesn’t stand. My clients know they wrote the song ‘Blurred Lines’ from their heart and souls and no other source.’

We never for a minute suggested that Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams’ hearts weren’t in it. But a jury of eight men and women have ruled that the source for ‘Blurred Lines’ was the song ‘Got to Give It Up,’ a song our dad wrote from his heart, and delivered to the world with pure joy.

With the digital age upon us, the threat of greater infringement looms for every artist. It is our wish that our dad’s legacy, and all great music, past, present, and future, be enjoyed and protected, with the knowledge that adhering to copyright standards assures our musical treasures will always be valued.

And finally, we want to put to rest any rumors that we are contemplating claims against Pharrell Williams for his song, ‘Happy.’ This is 100% false. We have absolutely no claim whatsoever concerning ‘Happy.’

Love and Respect,
Nona, Frankie, and Marvin III

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