Last week, the fierce legal battle between Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and the estate of soul icon Marvin Gaye may finally have come to an end. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the 2014 ruling against Thicke and Williams, which found them guilty of copying elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” for their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” The judge did, however, reduce the damages awarded against the artists from $7.4 million to $5.3 million. Nonetheless, Gaye has posthumously received songwriting credits for “Blurred Lines” and his estate will continue to earn 50% of all songwriting and publishing royalties from the song.
This ruling has proven to be highly controversial in the music industry. On one hand, it can be seen as a victory for artists and supporters of copyright protections. After all, if Thicke and Williams really did steal from Gaye, this ruling sends a clear message to other artists that they can’t get away with stealing someone else’s intellectual property. However, many musicians believe this ruling sets a dangerous precedent.
In 2016, more than 200 musicians including members of Earth Wind and Fire, Train, Linkin Park, and many other groups filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals, detailing their support for Thicke and Williams and the ways in which the ruling against them would restrict the creativity of artists to come. Many musicians didn’t see “Blurred Lines” as a rip-off of Gaye’s song, but rather as a piece that was evocative of that era. Demanding that Gaye be compensated for the 2013 hit could open up the doors to countless artists being sued for taking inspiration from those that came before – a practice that can be found in virtually every song ever written.
With artists on both sides of the issue, it remains to be seen whether or not this ruling will have positive or negative consequences for artists. Either way, this court case will have a broad-reaching impact for years to come.