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As Blurred Lines case approaches, should the songs be played in court?

By | Published on Thursday 8 January 2015

Robin Thicke

God I hope this legal battle between Marvin Gaye’s family and the ‘Blurred Lines’ profiteers gets to court next month, because if Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ depositions were anything to go by, it’ll be hilarious.

And while the rape anthem makers and their business partners have claimed they’d prefer the case be dismissed before trial, we all know they’re really well up for it. I know they want it, I know they want it, I know they want, hey hey, not many (alleged) song thieves can refuse this pimpin, etc etc.

As previously reported, ‘Blurred Lines’ has gone legal not because of its dubious lyrical content, but because of the allegations Thicke and Williams borrowed heavily from the Marvin Gaye track ‘Got To Give It Up’ when creating their tune.

This is partly down to the obvious similarities between the songs, and partly because Thicke once said of his hit in an interview: “I told Pharrell that one of my favourite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’. I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove’. Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it”.

Though in the aforementioned deposition Thicke basically claimed that he’d been far too addled with drink and prescription drugs at the time to have given any such coherent instructions to his pop-making partner. So any song-lifting and abhorrent rape apologism must have been Pharrell’s fault. Though both Thicke and Williams strongly deny the former allegation.

Anyway, as both sides prep for the 10 Feb kick off for the big court case – which will basically consider that old copyright question, “When does inspiration become infringement?” – the latest side debate taking place, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is whether the jury should hear the Thicke/Williams song and Gaye’s track side by side.

Now, you might think that spinning a ‘Blurred Lines’/’Got To Give It Up’ mash up would be a given at the start of a case of this kind, and unsurprisingly legal reps for the Gaye family would very much concur. Plenty of people noted the strong similarities before this dispute even got off the ground, so the jury are sure to agree that there’s definitely some crossover between the two songs.

But lawyers for the ‘Blurred Lines’ twosome are demanding that no such airing of the tracks at the heart of this case take place. Their argument is based on some tedious copyright law that has already been acknowledged by the judge overseeing the case. The allegation here is that Thicke and Williams infringed the copyright in Gaye’s song (not the recording), and – more specifically – in the composition as described in the sheet music for the piece.

For Team Lines this is an important point. They argue that where there are elements of ‘Blurred Lines’ that are very similar to ‘Got To Give It Up’, those elements are not part of Gaye’s formal composition, they are extra bits n pieces that were thrown in during the recording which are not – according to their interpretation of relevant American law – protected by copyright.

To play a ‘Lines/Give It Up’ mash up, therefore, would be “unduly prejudicial” say lawyers, and “likely to confuse the issues, and likely to mislead the jury because numerous elements in the sound recordings… are not found in the deposit copy and hence are not probative of copying”.

Assuming that jurors won’t be able to expertly scrutinise the sheet music for the two songs to assess similarities between the pieces, a compromise proposed by Thicke and Williams’ lawyers is that the core compositions of the two tracks be played on a keyboard in court.

But this is all just a nonsense, reckons the Gayes’ legal man. He writes: “The musical composition ‘Got To Give it Up’ was created simultaneously as it was being recorded. Thus, the musical composition of ‘Got To Give it Up’ in total is embodied in the sound recording. Therefore, the sound recording is the best evidence for what is included under the intrinsic test”.

So there you go, that’s kinda fun and this case hasn’t even got properly started yet. Everybody get up.