By Alan L. Chrisman
A court recently ruled that Robin Thicke’s and Pharrall William’s 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines”, was a copy of Marvin Gaye’s, “Got to Give it Up”, and awarded $7.4 million to Gaye’s heirs. “Blurred Lines” already had a history of controversy because some women have complained of its “sexist” lyrics and stance. Its original uncensored nudity version video had been banned. Its creators have said this was always a part of their marketing plan and it became a massive hit.
Marvin Gaye is one of the most respected soul singers and writers of the 60’s and 70’s with many hits such as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and classic albums like, What’s Going On and Sexual Healing. It’s interesting that Gaye originally didn’t even want to record the song. He only did so because he was under pressure from his record company, Motown, to write and record a “disco” song (which he didn’t like, as he preferred jazz and funk) and because he was going through a divorce and needed money. He wrote it as satire of the genre and, surprisingly, it became a big hit in 1977. Gaye was later shot and killed by his father during an argument in 1984. He left no insurance, but his children inherited his copyrights and they are the ones who won the lawsuit.
But it again raises a long standing question in pop music. Just when does a song and composer cross that “blurred line” into not only being influenced and inspired to actually “stealing” it? Rock is filled with cases of copyright infringement.
George Harrison was accused of “subconsciously plagiarising” his biggest 1971 hit, “My Sweet Lord”, from The Chiffons’ 1962 song, “He’s So Fine” and ordered to pay its copyright owners royalties. Harrison did admit that he was influenced by a traditional, but out-of-copyright gospel song, “Oh Happy Day.” The twist, is that The Beatles’ former manager, Allen Klein, later acquired the rights to the Chiffons’ song. Harrison, after several years, eventually settled by paying Klein’s company a half a million dollars, which Klein had paid for the song, but Harrison regained control of “My Sweet Lord’s” rights. Harrison expressed his answer to the whole dispute with his tongue-in–cheek 1976 ,“Your Song.”(There’s nothing ‘bright’ about it; Bright Tunes, Inc. was the original owner of “He’s So Fine.”)
In this age of sampling and the internet, it’s become increasingly more and more difficult to protect a creator’s original work. Williams (who wrote most of it) and Thicke say they wrote “Blurred Lines” in less than an hour, trying to capture Gaye’s “groove and spirit.” Some have said, perhaps all along, they should have given part credit to Gaye. Now they will have to share in the more than $17 million the tune has made so far. Lawyers for the Gaye family say they will also now try to stop the song being distributed until they can be assured they will get a proper accounting. Ringo has said,” good artists steal and bad ones borrow. “ Meaning perhaps if you’re going to copy your idols you should at least be up-front about it.
As I said, these are only a couple of the better-known of many, many copyright infringement cases over the years. And again it continues the on-going debate-just when does a song and new artist overstep the “Blurred Lines” of original creation?
Judge the “copy” songs below for yourself:
“Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” comparison:
Also below the Top 10 “Sound-like” songs:
Below George Harrison’s song-answer to “unconsciously plagiarizing”,"My Sweet Lord.":