In March of this year, a California jury awarded $7.36 million in damages to Marvin Gaye’s family, finding that Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke, and Clifford Harris, Jr.’s hit song “Blurred Lines” infringed on the Marvin Gaye classic song “Got to Give It Up.” Recently, the Judge in this case made rulings on several post-trial motions. Some of the most significant rulings are that a request for a new trial was denied and that the Judge reduced the jury verdict from $7.36 million to $5.3 million. Also, the Judge found that T.I. was liable, reversing the jury verdict that he was not due to errors in the jury instructions. Further, the Judge denied a request for an injunction to prevent the distribution of the “Blurred Lines” song, and instead required payment of an “ongoing royalty of 50% of songwriter and publishing revenues” to Marvin Gaye’s family. Although the Judge has made a ruling in this case, this dispute may continue if either party decides to appeal.
Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Jury Rules that Pharrell and Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” Infringed Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”
After deliberating for two days, a California jury awarded $7.36 million in damages to Marvin Gaye’s family, finding that the best selling song of 2013, “Blurred Lines” infringed on the Marvin Gaye classic “Got to Give It Up.” The lawsuit stems from a 2013 preemptive suit from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, who sought a declaratory judgment that their song did not infringe on the Gaye chart topper. Gaye’s children, who inherited the copyright from their father countersued, and included the record company Universal Music Group and Clifford Harris Jr. (professionally known as T.I.).
The week long trial featured testimony from both Pharrell and Robin Thicke. Pharrell testified that he was inspired by music from that time but that the song was completely original. Interestingly enough, the jurors never heard the Marvin Gaye song during trial. U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt granted Pharrell and Thicke a motion in limine to preclude the Gaye family from playing “Got to Give it Up”. Managing partner of Santucci Priore, P.L., Michael Santucci says this is because Marvin Gaye only owned a copyright for the musical composition and not the recordings of the song. Santucci says that prior to 1972 sound recordings were not eligible for copyright protection. The judge ruled that the jurors could only consider what was listed on paper and filed at the Library of Congress.
Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship.” It provides protection for the “original and creative expression of an idea which is embodied in a tangible medium.” The test for originality? The work must have “more than a de minimis level of creativity.” For a song, two different copyrights can be obtained – one for “musical composition” and the other for “sound recording.”
As this case demonstrates, the penalties for infringing a copyright are severe. A copyright owner may receive actual damages, profits, statutory damages, and willful infringement damages. There are three necessary elements that the Plaintiff must prove for copyright infringement – (1) Plaintiff owns a valid copyright (2) Defendant actually copied Plaintiff’s work and (3) Defendant’s work is substantially similar to Plaintiff’s work. This can be proven through either direct or circumstantial evidence.
To prove their damages, the Gaye family gave everyone a rare insight into how much money a hit song makes. Accountants testified that Thicke made $5.6 million, Pharrell made $5.2 million, T.I. made $700K, and another $16 million was split between the record label and publishing company. The jury found that the infringement was not willful.
While copyright lawsuits are common, it is very rare to see them go to trial. Most settle, like the recent suit between Sam Smith and Tom Petty. It will be interesting to see how this impacts future music copyright infringement cases. As always, stay tuned.
Paloma Z. Coelho
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Sound recording of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” excluded in copyright infringement lawsuit between Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke
The Marvin Gaye estate and Robin Thicke are currently involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit which includes a dispute regarding the similarities of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” song and Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” song. Lawyers for Robin Thicke requested that the Court exclude Gaye’s original recording of “Got to Give it Up” and prevent the song from being played to the jury during trial. This request was recently granted by the District Court Judge. One of the arguments made by the attorneys for Robin Thicke to the Court was that the Marvin Gaye estate only owned a copyright in the composition of the song and not in the actual sound recording.
It is important to understand the difference between applying for a copyright registration in a musical composition versus applying for a copyright registration in a sound recording. Generally, a musical composition consists of music and any accompanying words and is in the form of a phonorecord (i.e., a CD or LP) or sheet music. A sound recording captures the actual fixed performance of the song. The 1976 Copyright Act allows for separate applications for musical compositions and sound recordings. Thus, a copyright registration for a sound recording is not the same as a copyright registration for the underlying musical composition since each is considered a separate work. However, under certain circumstances a musical composition and sound recording can be registered in one application.