In the shot heard around the music world, Robin Thick's legal team filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against Marvin Gaye's family and Bridgeport Music, which owns copyrights for Gaye, and George Clinton's band Funkadelic on August 15 in Federal Court in Los Angeles, becoming big news by August 19 when NPR picked up the story.
Bridgeport Music instigated a response from Thicke by accusing him and co-writers of "Blurred Lines" of copying Gaye's style in "Got To Give It Up" and Clinton's song "Sexy Ways." Significantly, “Blurred Lines” is spending its 10th week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It has sold 4.6 million tracks. Bridgeport demanded that Thicke's camp make a monetary settlement out of court.
In the past, Bridgeport Music was successful in a 2005 lawsuit against N.W.A. which sampled a two second guitar chord from a Funkadelic song, "Get Off Your Ass And Jam," even though the pitch was lowered and it was only played 5 times throughout "100 Miles And Runnin." Had N.W.A. just hired someone to play the chord in the new key, there wouldn't have been a lawsuit.
In the 1950s and in the Latin world, same rhythmic structures are essential parts of songs. Doo-wop rhythm was in 12/8 time with every beat of that time signature often getting a chord. Latin rhythms are well known for their associated dances and beat structures; cha-cha, merengue, bachata, samba, cumbia, salsa, bolero. Paying homage to a style by adopting a similar rhythm is not considered a copyright infringement.
An homage may be as simple as Duran Duran famously adopting the same chord progressions Rod Stewart used in "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" for their early 1981 European hit "Planet Earth." This was not considered an infringement on copyright, since chord progressions alone are not considered copyrightable.
A New York Times critic noted that Thicke's "Blurred Lines" bears some similarity to Gaye's "Got To Give It Up." However, the commentary of this ended there, and the rest of the article critiqued Thicke for not being innovative enough.
Court decisions look very closely at a song's melody, lyrics, and chords to determine whether or not copyright infringement has occurred. Even if one concedes that Thicke borrowed "heavily" from Gaye, Thicke's team was correct in saying in the lawsuit, "being reminiscent of a 'sound' is not copyright infringement. The intent in producing 'Blurred Lines' was to evoke an era." Further, there is no copyright to singing in falsetto, nor is there a copyright to the particular rhythms of the song. The melody, lyrics, chorus, and chord progressions are completely different. They are in completely different keys with Gaye's song on a minor blues scale, and Thicke's song planted firmly in a happy major key.
And there is no sampling of anyone else's pre-recorded music in Thicke's song. Sampling is defined as taking a short, pre-recorded excerpt of another song and inserting it into another song. "Blurred Lines" involved recording artists playing instruments in a studio.
George Clinton, the "Atomic Dog" himself, tweeted his support of Thicke, "No sample of #Funkadelic's 'Sexy Ways' in @RobinThicke's 'Blurred Lines' - yet Armen Boladian thinks so? We support @RobinThicke @Pharrell!" Clearly, he isn't siding with his own copyright holder's pursuit of a settlement, and has been speaking out against Bridgeport via Facebook and Twitter. @George_Clinton also posted "flashlight2013.com for more information in Armen Boladian and Bridgeport Music's business practices and... http://fb.me/1R1bfWdVQ"
What Thicke's camp really wants to do is strike claims which are not legitimate in order to keep the royalties they deserve for writing a major hit song, stating in the lawsuit, "There are no similarities between plaintiffs' composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements." In order to do this, they music ask the court to intervene.
Read the court documents via the Hollywood Reporter. Further links of interest to the article are provided.
Marvin Gaye "Got To Give It Up" studio version.