Tribute or rip-off? The lines are blurred as Thicke v Gaye legal battle rolls on

Bet Robin wishes he’d never mentioned Marvin in his GQ interview

Give it up, Thicke: the Blurred Lines battle has put Marvin Gaye deservedly back in the spotlight. Photograph: Gems/Redferns

Give it up, Thicke: the Blurred Lines battle has put Marvin Gaye deservedly back in the spotlight. Photograph: Gems/Redferns

Fri, Jan 24, 2014, 00:00

Here’s a quote Robin Thicke would probably like to redact. Speaking to GQ magazine as Blurred Lines was on its way to selling mega-millions of copies, he said: “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him 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 (Pharrell) started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song [Blurred Lines] in about a half an hour and recorded it.”

A few months later – after Marvin Gaye’s family had started making noises about suing for copyright infringement – Thicke was asked by TMZ: “When you wrote it [Blurred Lines], did you think of Marvin Gaye?” He replied “No”.

Everybody is now weighing in following the news this week that there had been an undisclosed “settlement” between the publishers of Blurred Lines and Marvin Gaye’s family. This is just one strand of the case settled, though – others are to follow. At the end of this legal rainbow lies a pot of gold – millions of dollars of royalties earned by sales of Blurred Lines.

Stevie Wonder – who was a close friend of Marvin Gaye’s – has made his position clear by urging the Gaye family to drop all lawsuits. “I don’t think it’s a steal,” says Wonder. He did go on to say, though, that “the groove is very similar.”

And that is why this case has far reaching consequences for songwriters of all hues. The first indication something was up was the remarkable decision by Thicke, Pharrell and TI (the three Blurred Lines writers) to pre-emptively sue Marvin Gaye’s family over Got To Give It Up – attack being the best form of defence. Their argument – condensed – was that their song was “reminiscent of a sound” and “evoked an era”. The Gaye family responded with their own law suit, saying that within Blurred Lines there is a “blatant copying of a constellation of distinctive and significant compositional elements of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up”. Yes, the groove (and a whole lot else) is similar in both songs but you can’t copyright a groove. Similarly, there is legal divide in copyright terms between a musical idea and the subsequent musical expression of that idea.

What we can say for certain is that Blurred Lines is a tribute to Gaye’s Got To Give It Up. Robin Thicke, in words that may come back to haunt him, said as much in his GQ interview.

Enter Michael Jackson. He used Gaye’s line from Got To Give It Up – “Let’s dance, let’s shout, gettin’ funky’s what it’s all about” to form the basis of his huge hit Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) which has as its chorus: “Let’s dance, let’s shout, shake your body down to the ground”. And it’s Michael Jackson’s family who co-own the copyright to Blurred Lines. That could get messy.

The one positive thing is that one of the most gifted musicians who ever lived, Marvin Gaye, is back in the spotlight as a whole new generation learns where a lot of today’s disco/soul came from.

As for Thicke: give it up, dude. Try paying royalties instead of paying tribute.

MIXED BAG

Love: The Simpsons apologise to Judas Priest for calling them “death metal”

Hate: Blur’s Alex James to bring out a drink called Britpop



bboyd@irishtimes.com

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