We were going to write about the Robin Thicke v Marvin Gaye lawsuit but someone already has done so in such elaborate detail that it would be inappropriate for me to not insist that you read his piece on the subject. So here is the aforementioned piece from Prof. Joe Bennet. (Once you are done reading Prof. Bennet’s piece please come back and finish ours).
I will add that using bells/claves to mark the primary rhythm of a piece is a widely known Africanism (a musical trait common to folk music from, and music inspired by, the “Black diaspora”). Gaye’s own use of a crowd inside of a studio to create a party environment was predated by “Cannonball” Adderley amongst many others. Nothing done on “Blurred Lines” was actually against the letter of the law. Which begs the question of why this went to court in the first place?
The suit was actually a countersuit. I’m not making this up. See, Thicke openly admitted that “they” (Pharrell, Thicke etc.) were inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” in an interview. Thicke must not have been terribly familiar with the song because his homage to a classic song about a “wallflower” inspired to dance, sounds an awful lot like a song condoning infidelity or date rape. This of course caused a conflict with the Gaye family. Simply put the Gaye family did not want this song to be attached to the legacy of Marvin Gaye. So there was no way that they were going to retro-actively grant rights to Thicke and company for what they had done. Thicke had publicly admitted that he had borrowed elements from Gaye and the Gaye family were not about to clear any borrowed elements. This “forced” Thicke to pre-emptively sue the Gaye estate. The rest is history.
This is just conjecture, based on the available facts. I don’t pretend to be inside of Nona and Marvin’s heads. But I think it is safe to say that what we can all learn from this case is to never acknowledge the inspiration of your hit songs. Especially if some people don’t like the content of your lyrics.
If that sounds like BS to you then, too bad. A jury found these guys guilty of copyright violation for being inspired by Marvin Gaye. Anyone who sings in falsetto, uses crowd sounds, a cowbell and an electric piano bass line is fair game now (wait I own an electric piano and sing in falsetto….really I do…).
Saying that copyright law is broken seems like a bit of an understatement. Will the family of the Beatles start suing every band they don’t like that has four members and makes “pop” rock music? They could. Heck, who isn’t influenced by the Beatles? In that same vein the Marley family could sue most of the Reggae making world.
Of course a Jury based case does not establish new “case law” the way in which a Judge based case would have (for example if this case goes to appeal) but it certainly sets a precedence. A very dangerous precedence that opens the door for copyright trolls like Bridgeport Music (please read after your done here) who now have grounds to sue anyone whose music resembles the music they “own”. The potential fallout from this case is massive to say the least, and is a clear example of why modern copyright law needs a major overhaul.
…Meanwhile your friends are celebrating Robin Thicke’s demise because they think someone they have never met is sexist, because he co-wrote a song that appealed to millions of people around the world (to make money). A song that could be interpreted as misogynistic, or condoning infidelity…which had a controversial music video, that also served to generate income.
Speaking as an entertainer, I used to design tasteful flyers for my events. Although I do not condone it, my competition made flyers with scantily clad ladies on it. Guess whose events were better attended by women in general? In real world application scenarios sex sells. And the biggest buyer of the idea of the over sexualized woman is women themselves (see here). Thicke, Pharrell and their cohorts didn’t do what they did because they have some deep seeded hatred towards women. They did it because they wanted to make money, and lots of it. Gaye’s family didn’t do what they did because they were “hurt” by a song. They did it because they wanted to protect the “Gaye” brand, winning a few million dollars in the process was just a happy side-effect.