Musical Litigation Groove – The LAW FIRM OF DAYREL SEWELL, PLLC is pleased to announce that Messrs. Sewell’s and Ng’s recent, featured publication, “Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke told they “Got To Give It Up””, appears in this month’s IPFrontline newsletter.
In March 2015, a federal jury in Los Angeles ordered Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, singers of the hit song “Blurred Lines,” to pay over $7 million in damages and earned profits to the family of Marvin Gaye, singer of the chart-topping 1977 song “Got To Give It Up,” after determining that the two were guilty of copyright infringement. See Pharrell Williams, et al. v. Bridgeport Music, Inc., et al., 2015 WL 1476803 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 10, 2015). The verdict adds increasing uncertainty for the music industry with the finding of substantial similarity between the two songs, and hence copyright infringement, but its ramifications may have also spawned a shift in copyright infringement litigation that puts musicians and record labels on alert.
The test for copyright infringement relied on whether a reasonable and average lay observer would recognize an alleged infringing piece of work as having been appropriated from a copyrighted work. The jury had to decide whether the two songs were similar enough in any way to establish some evidence of copying. The jury was not to give any weight to the amount of elements that were dissimilar or those dissimilar elements themselves. This particular instruction proves challenging in that it is a perspicacious analysis to accurately explain to jurors and just as difficult, if not harder, for jurors to properly apply. The music industry argues that this current test severely limits and restricts an artist’s ability to create music. In this particular case, the jury relied heavily on the composition of the sheet music in reaching a decision of infringement. From the sheet music, along with conflicting testimonies on the similarities and differences of the two songs, the jury concluded that the two songs were sufficiently similar. However, what the jury precisely found to be similar remains unknown. There are many elements in all music that are not embodied by the sheet music, including tone, mood, style, and feel, yet play an integral part in forming the identity of the song. These elements simply cannot be seen on a piece of paper. These essential aspects of a song help to create expressive, original works, but at times are non-dispositive in such analyses for copyright infringement.
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