Robin Thicke, Pharrell Lose Multi-Million Dollar ‘Blurred Lines’ Lawsuit
UPDATE: A lawyer for the estate of Marvin Gaye tells Rolling Stone that he will try to block all future sales of “Blurred Lines” until an agreement is reached.
Robin Thicke noticeably ripped off Marvin Gaye‘s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” when he wrote the smash hit “Blurred Lines” with Pharrell Williams and T.I., a Los Angeles jury has decided. He and co-songwriter Pharrell Williams must pay Gaye’s family $7.3 million as part of the ruling, according to Variety. The verdict puts to rest over a year’s worth of legal back and forth between Thicke and Gaye’s estate, in which the latter sought $25 million in damages.
“While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” Williams, Thicke and T.I. said in a joint statement. “‘Blurred Lines’ was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.”
A representative for Gaye’s estate was not immediately available for comment.
The decision, which hinged on the fact that Gaye’s family owned only elements of the sheet music to “Got to Give It Up,” came from eight jurors who listened to testimony from musicologists, as well as Thicke and Williams. Marvin Gaye’s children, Nona, Frankie and Marvin Gaye III, will receive $4 million in damages and $3.3 million of the profits that “Blurred Lines” made, along with $9,000 in statutory damages, according to The New York Times. T.I., who was listed in the suit by real name Clifford Harris, Jr., was found not liable.
The $7.3 million number beats the record high judgment in a copyright infringement suit, according to The Hollywood Reporter, who cite the $5.4 million Michael Bolton had to pay for using elements of the Isley Brothers’ “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” in his own song titled “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” in 1994.
“I’m really grateful,” Janis Gaye, Marvin’s former wife and the mother of Nona and Frankie and stepmother of Marvin Gaye III, told the Times. “I hope people understand that this means Marvin deserves credit for what he did back in 1977.”
The “Blurred Lines” legal drama began in August 2013, when Thicke, Williams and T.I. responded to threats of legal action by the Gaye estate and publisher Bridgeport Music by preemptively suing them, along with Funkadelic, claiming “Blurred Lines” was “strikingly different” than “Got to Give It Up” and the latter group’s “Sexy Ways.” “The intent in producing ‘Blurred Lines’ was to evoke an era,” Thicke’s lawyers wrote in the suit. “In reality, the Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work, and Bridgeport is claiming the same work.” (“Sexy Ways” was dropped from the lawsuit last March after the parties reached a mutual agreement.)
The Gaye estate, which represents the singer’s children Frankie and Nona, fired back two months later, claiming Thicke had pilfered not only “Got to Give It Up” but also Gaye’s “After the Dance” and “I Want You” on Thicke’s 2011 album Love After War. The family alleged at the time that the Canadian singer had a “Marvin Gaye fixation” and accused the publisher of Gaye’s songs, EMI, of not protecting the soul icon’s catalogue since it had folded into Sony ATV, which manages Thicke’s music. (They eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.) They also cited interviews where Thicke said he’d stolen from Gaye, including telling GQ that one of his favorite songs was “Got to Give It Up” and that he told Williams that they should write a song with the same “groove.”
By April 2014, Thicke was claiming in a deposition that he was drunk and high on Vicodin when he recorded “Blurred Lines” and that he was barely involved in its production, claiming Williams wrote “almost every single part of the song.” Regarding his claim to GQ, he claimed that he was jealous and “wanted some of the credit.” His deposition also involved listening to a mash-up of the two songs, which he compared to “nails on a fucking chalkboard” and the punishment-by-media scene in A Clockwork Orange. Williams, in his deposition, also complained at the time about the songwriting equity he gave up in the song.