Let’s Get It On: Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye | Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law

For many people, the days of truly talented, original, creative, and charismatic musicians and artists are long gone. Many miss the quality of music from legends like Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and Frank Sinatra. For those who miss the iconic soul of Marvin Gaye, they may have been happy, or furious, to hear this year’s undeniable song of the summer: “Blurred Lines.” The reason for such an emotional response is that “Blurred Lines” is arguably very similar to a famous song by Marvin Gaye: “Got To Give It Up.” This similarity sparked threats from Marvin Gaye’s family toward Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Clifford Harris, Jr. (the creators of “Blurred Lines”). It also sparked threats from the rights owner of the band Funkadelic, who claims there is substantial similarity between “Blurred Lines” and Funkadelic’s song “Sexy Ways.” Upon receiving such threats, the Blurred Lines trio filed a lawsuit in August against Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music, which owns some of Funkadelic’s compositions, to protect their song.

The trio claims that the Gaye family is alleging that “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up” “feel” or “sound” the same, and are thereby claiming ownership of an entire genre instead of a specific work.

The lawsuit goes on to state that “there are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements.” However, Thicke himself has slightly contradicted this statement in a recent interview with Yahoo! Music, where he stated that “Blurred Lines” is “[d]efinitely inspired by [“Got To Give It Up”], yeah. All of his music . . . he’s one of my idols. It’s just something about that groove, that appeals; you know, sexy dance-floor groove. It doesn’t try too hard but it just gets up in your bones.”

The problem with Thicke’s statement is that the groove is precisely what seems to have been taken from Marvin’s song. But whether or not that similarity is substantial enough will have to be determined by the court. However, the problems doesn’t end with “Blurred Lines.” The Gaye family also thinks that Thicke copied elements of two other songs. They believe that Thicke’s song “Love After War“samples from Marvin’s song “After the Dance,” and that “Million Dollar Baby“, also by Thicke, takes elements from Marvin’s “Trouble Man.”

The similarities between “Love After War” and “After the Dance” are evident, but arguably not substantial enough, while the similarities between “Million Dollar Baby” and “Trouble Man” are both substantial and undeniable. When considering the similarities between the songs, and Thicke’s own admission that “Blurred Lines” was at least inspired by “Got To Give It Up,” it becomes rather difficult to say that Thicke and his friends did not take anything from Marvin’s songs. But Thicke’s attorneys argue that nothing specific was taken, and that “being reminiscent of a ‘sound’ is not copyright infringement.”

As far as the lawsuit goes, Thicke, Williams, and Harris, Jr., are looking for a declaratory judgment that their song doesn’t violate the defendants’ rights, and that the “Gayes do not have an interest in the copyright to the composition ‘Got to Give It Up’ sufficient to confer standing on them to pursue claims of infringement of that composition.”

Though similar situations have arisen before, how this one will end up is yet to be seen. But one can only hope that this will teach a valuable lesson to current and future musicians and artists: write your own songs and save everyone some trouble.

John Lomascolo

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2 Responses to Let’s Get It On: Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye

  1. Jeremy Cain says:

    Thicke’s statements undermine his ability to argue coincidental, independent production. Gaye’s family recently turned down a “six-figure settlement” for “Blurred Lines,” possibly because multiple songs are now being disputed.

  2. Amanda Nguyen says:

    Seems like the difference between an artist wanting to sound cool and an artist who knows when to keep quiet. I think arguing that it is reminiscent is the best route, but Thicke’s attorney will be trying to backpedal.