Belfast Telegraph

Blurred Lines verdict 'a disaster'

The "bad judgment" that singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied a Marvin Gaye song to create Blurred Lines could have a "chilling effect" on music, critics say.

Blurred Lines - the biggest hit of 2013 - sold millions of copies worldwide and netted the pair millions of pounds, but a jury awarded Gaye's children nearly £4.9 million after determining Williams and Thicke copied their father's music to create it.

Williams and Thicke are ''undoubtedly disappointed'', said their lead lawyer Howard King, who added: ''They're unwavering in their absolute conviction that they wrote this song independently."

The trial focused on detailed analyses of chords and notes in Blurred Lines and Gaye's hit Got To Give It Up.

Experts are divided over the verdict and what it means for the future of music, with m usic critic Dorian Lynskey describing the ruling as a "disaster" on Twitter, adding that it is "i gnorant, reactionary and dangerous".

He said it is "bound to have a chilling effect" on how people write songs, and added that a precedent has been set in the sense of "other cases that it might encourage to be brought" or "ways in which it will make songwriters nervous".

He said Blurred Lines is meant to reference the "vibe of that record", in the same way that many R&B records are a nod to Stevie Wonder's sound.

"It's just a thing that songwriters do," he said.

He also said there are rhythms that people re-use all the time, such as the beat from Be My Baby by The Ronettes, adding: "When people use those, they're not hiding the fact they're using them."

The music writer said he thinks Williams is "big enough" and established enough to prevent the ruling damaging his reputation too much.

"I think it's worse for Robin Thicke, because this is the song of his that most people know. If you ask most people that know Blurred Lines, they couldn't name another Robin Thicke song," he said.

The song is Thicke's only "massive multimillion-dollar song", whereas Williams could pay the settlement "just out of the money he got from Happy", he said.

Mr Lynskey also pointed out that during the backlash against Blurred Lines, when people were claiming it was misogynist, Thicke got "all the blame for that" and people "hardly mentioned" Williams.

Joe Bennett, professor of popular music at Bath Spa University, said: " What worries me about this judgment is the precedent it sets. All art is influenced by other art, and genres of music evolve because of clusters of individual songs that have musical similarities.

"Marvin Gaye contributed enormously to the development of soul and funk, but he didn't invent the idea of the cowbell riff or the pentatonic bass line - nor does he own these ideas now."

Prof Bennett said he had followed the case since the first accusations of copying came to light in October 2013.

"The issue isn't whether Thicke and Pharrell were influenced by Gaye - they admitted as much at the time. Rather, the problem is that no part of the actual composition has been copied. There are no melodic sections, chord sequences or lyrics from Got To Give It Up that appear in Blurred Lines," he said.

Prof Bennett added: "US law allows for 'lay listener' juries to make judgments about copyright cases, and there are sound arguments in favour of this, because juries represent a section of the music-loving public.

"But music-lovers are not songwriters and they cannot necessarily easily distinguish between musical artifacts that reside in the composition, such a note choice and chord context, and those that reside in the performance, such as tempo and instrumentation."

He said this was "a bad judgment for future artists and songwriters" because they will be "afraid to let their musical influences shine through their work".

He added: "All music is an indirect product of the music that has gone before, and artists cannot ignore their own cultural histories. To own the copyright on stylistic elements of a genre of music is to prevent others from standing on the shoulders of giants."

But music industry consultant Andy Saunders, from Velocity Communications, said the jury reached the right verdict and said it is "a nonsense argument" to say it will impinge on artists' creativity.

"It reinforces the idea of copyright which is the one thing that content owners and songwriters have, and the fact that you just cannot go around abusing copyright. So from that point of view it reinforces something that the music industry feels very strongly about - the right to protect intellectual property.

"It's obviously the right verdict. It's obviously, if I'm being kind, borrowed from the song, and if I'm being unkind, ripped off," he said.

Mr Saunders said it is "theft", adding: "You cannot appropriate somebody else's creativity and claim it for your own for commercial reasons. You simply can't do that.

"If we do that, that not only affects big corporations, the major labels and so forth, what it affects is songwriters, it affects the ability of creative people to make a living."

Mr Saunders said he does not think the case will necessarily impact on Williams, but he thinks the famous singer will "think twice before doing it again".

Tim Ingham, music industry commentator and editor at Music Business Worldwide, said it is rare for a copyright infringement claim to "go the distance in court" as it is normally settled out of court.

He said this case will set a precedent as people will be less open to settling quickly because there is a chance that if they take it to court they will get a much bigger fee.

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