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“Blurred Lines” Sampling Clear by Verdict

March 26, 2015

Listening to your favorite song(s) on the radio you may instantly notice a song from decades ago that your parents or grandparents use to listened to. The song is intertwined in the melody or beat of the current song. You might find yourself subconsciously comparing the song and sound that was sampled in conjunction with the present song you are enjoying. Sampling music from other artists has become an integral part of todayʼs era of music spanning across many genres. Music influences people everyday and it is what inspires many producers to compose portions of past recordings – known as sampling – and incorporate them in todayʼs music. However, there is a fine line between sampling with the proper permission and unlawfully infringing upon recordings from the copyright owner.

“Blurred Lines” is a contemporary R&B song infused with a disco funk sound with vocals sung by singer/ songwriter Robin Thicke, featuring rapper T.I. and produced by the Grammy Award winning musician Pharrell Williams. The song was released in March 2013 and received immense success by becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over 14.8 million copies and receiving accolades through Grammy nominations.

The celebration began to tumble downwards once the family members of the late legendary Marvin Gaye accused the song collaborators of copying the sound of the R&B hit “Got to Give It Up.” This accusation led Thicke, Williams and T.I. to sue Marvin Gayeʼs estate for making an invalid copyright claim.

After much speculation during radio talk shows, entertainment segments such as Entertainment Tonight and TMZ, the question became whether Robin Thickeʼs “Blurred Lines” actually infringed upon the copyright of Marvin Gayeʼs song “Got to Give It Up.” The battle then began between both parties and depositions were released in September 2014 with Thicke stating that he was intoxicated when recording the song in studio. Itʼs rumored that Williams, who has had an infectious hit song “Happy” and is a judge on “The Voice,” told jurors that Gayeʼs music was part of the soundtrack of his youth; yet allegedly the seven-time Grammy winner didnʼt use any of Gayeʼs influential songs to create “Blurred Lines.”

On March 10, 2015, just two years later to the month the song was originally released, a Los Angeles jury awarded three of Marvin Gayeʼs children $7.4 million in damages, holding Thicke and Williams but not T.I. liable for copyright infringement for using components of the 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up.” Thereafter, Marvin Gayeʼs daughter analogized her reaction to the feeling of liberation, “Right now, I feel free,” said Nona Gaye after the verdict. “Free from . . . Pharrell Williams and Robin Thickeʼs chains and what they tried to keep on us and the lies that were told.” Days following the verdict, Gayeʼs children released a letter stating their viewpoint on the decision: “[g]reat 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.”

Singer John Legend has voiced his concern of the verdict possibly creating a slippery slope to the Hollywood Reporter saying, “you have to be careful when it comes to copyrights, whether just sounding like or feeling like something is enough to say you violated their copyrights.” Although sampling has been a commonality in the music industry, the recent verdict may now have an eerie effect on other producers, songwriters, and musicians when deciding to use parts of songs to create their own musical masterpiece. Further, those who respect and seek the assistance of Williams hit-making skills may be weary of jumping to his services due to such judgment and backlash over the last few years. Just as there are many lessons to be learned in the business of the music industry, sampling is no different.