Last week Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles for a declaratory judgment ruling that the highly popular song of this summer, “Blurred Lines”, does not infringe upon Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways.” As both the Gaye Estate and Bridgeport Music, publishers of Funkadelic’s song, threatened legal action against the trio for copyright infringement if they did not receive adequate compensation, Robin, Pharrell and T.I. took preemptive action for the court to make a determination prior to any lawsuits being filed against them.
As Plaintiff’s in the lawsuit, the trio, through their attorneys, claim that the “Blurred Lines” song is inspired by a sound from the era of Gaye’s and Funkadelic’s songs, but did not infringe on any copyright.
What Does This Mean?:
A declaratory judgment is a legally binding court authoritative opinion ultimately telling both parties what their rights and responsibilities are, without any awards for damages or orders being entered.
Creators of works of art, in this case lyrics and underline music (beats, arrangements, etc.), have an ownership interest in what they create. This includes rights to control how it is recorded, distributed, performed, reproduced, displayed, etc. (The technical five fundamental rights are the rights of reproduction, adaptation, publication, performances and display.) Most, if not all, songs you hear on the radio, on the internet and on television have been registered with the Library of Congress for copyright protection.
With the “Blurred Lines” writers, producers and performers facing a threatened and impending copyright infringement lawsuit, they decided to take matters into their own hands and seek a decision from the court before any action was taken against them and before they paid any demanded royalties for the alleged sampling/copying of “Got to Give It Up” or “Sexy Ways”.
How Does This Affect You?:
If you are an artist, whether it is music, art, television, etc., it is imperative to protect your work on a national level by filing copyright application for what you created. Additionally, if you are creating work, that is or may be a derivative of a previous work or includes a sample of a work owned by another party, permission is required by way of a license or purchase and royalties and fees must be paid in order to avoid a lawsuit.
As the trio is claiming that no infringement took place because the song pays homage to a specific era in music, and not a specific song or songs, the defendants who have to defend their entitlement to royalties and how their original works of art are reproduced, published, etc. will have to establish:
(1) a valid copyright
(2) unauthorized copying of the copyrighted work
(3) that the infringing work is substantially similar to the protected work.
As many lay people, critics and industry insiders have all agreed that the song is play on “Got To Give It Up,” is it so substantially similar to obligate payment to the Gaye Estate? I for one will be keeping my eye on this case, as well as dancing to the song of the summer at the same time.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.