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Specifics of Blurred Lines appeal filed with court

By | Published on Thursday 25 August 2016

Blurred Lines

And so round two of the ‘Blurred Lines’ legal battle officially begins. Legal reps for Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke have submitted an initial filing to the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals in their bid to overturn last year’s ruling that concluded ‘Blurred Lines’ ripped off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’.

As expected, much of the filing focuses on copyright law technicalities regarding what elements of ‘Got To Give It Up’ were actually protected. The legal dispute focused on the song, not the recording, and under US law only the core composition of the Gaye work, as filed with the country’s Copyright Office, enjoys copyright protection, not extra elements that may have been added in the studio. Lawyers for Thicke and Pharrell always argued that any similarities between ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got To Give It Up’ came from these extra elements, not the core composition.

The judge hearing the initial case generally agreed with Thicke and Pharrell on this point, though during the trial itself he arguably wasn’t particularly strict in ensuring that legal reps for the Gaye family didn’t discuss and present elements of ‘Got To Give It Up’ not protected by copyright. Certainly that’s what the ‘Blurred Lines’ writers are arguing now in their bid to have the jury’s ruling set aside.

Their lawyers note that the judge correctly banned the famous version of ‘Got To Give It Up’ from being played in court, on the basis not all elements of the song as heard in that recording are protected by copyright, but, they say, “the court erroneously allowed the Gayes’ experts to testify about the sound recording anyway, including by playing their own musical excerpts based on the sound recording”.

And, the legal filing adds, “the court then instructed the jury that it could consider all this testimony in its substantial-similarity analysis, failing to instruct them to consider only the protectable elements of the copyrighted work and indeed pointing them explicitly to elements omitted from the deposit copy”.

Similar limitations regarding what, exactly, had copyright protection applied in the recent ‘Stairway To Heaven’ plagiarism case, in which it was ultimately decided that the Led Zeppelin song was not sufficiently similar to the work the band were accused of ripping off. The lawyers for Thicke and Pharrell note this, saying that in that trial the judge correctly briefed the jury on the copyright complexities.

Says the legal papers: “The importance of instructions that correctly filter out unprotected elements in popular music cases is illustrated by the jury’s non-infringement verdict in the recent case involving Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Stairway To Heaven’. There, unlike here, the district court identified specific musical elements that were not protected by the plaintiff’s copyright and directed the jury to ‘disregard’ such elements in assessing similarity”.

It remains to be seen how the next phase of the ‘Blurred Lines’ action progresses, with this week’s legal filing noting that the matter is of concern to the wider music community, who still wonder what precedent last year’s ruling may have set.

Talking of ‘Blurred Lines’, if you happen to be in Edinburgh, CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke will be discussing the song – but more why he thinks it should have been banned by British radio – at ‘Chris Cooke’s Free Speech’, which he is delivering tomorrow and Saturday morning at 10.30am at the Edinburgh Fringe. Free tickets are available for the event, which is being recorded for future podcast, at