Did Artist Behind Hit Single “Blur” the Lines of Copyright Law?

The artists behind the top hit, “Blurred Lines,” are fighting back against allegations that the song copies elements of earlier compositions by Marvin Gaye and Funkadelic.

Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. (a/k/a T.I.) have filed a complaint for declaratory relief, which seeks a judicial determination that “Blurred Lines” doesn’t violate infringe the copyrights to Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and the Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways.” Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music, which owns some of Funkadelic’s compositions, have both alleged that the current hit borrows heavily from the songs in which they hold copyrights. They also informed the artists that they plan to file a copyright infringement lawsuit if the parties cannot reach a monetary settlement.

Rather than wait to be sued, Thicke and his collaborators launched a pre-emptive strike. According to the complaint, “Plaintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic and their musical legacies, reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest to those artists. Defendants continue to insist that plaintiffs’ massively successful composition, ‘Blurred Lines,’ copies ‘their’ compositions.”

The artists maintain that any similarities between the compositions do not amount to copyright infringement. “The basis of the Gaye defendants’ claims is that ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got to Give It Up’ ‘feel’ or ‘sound’ the same,” the complaint states. “Being reminiscent of a ‘sound’ is not copyright infringement. The intent in producing ‘Blurred Lines’ was to evoke an era.”

It will now be up to the court to decide whether “Blurred Lines” bears a substantial similarity to either of the prior works, which is sufficient to constitute improper appropriation.

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