March 12, 2015
Enough with the Lawsuits
A couple of days ago Marvin Gaye’s estate won a lawsuit over the song Blurred Lines[^1] by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Gaye’s estate felt that Thicke’s song infringed on the song Got To Give It Up. After going back and listening to both songs closely, I became greatly disturbed with the outcome, especially after Sam Smith gave partial writing credit to Tom Petty for Smith’s song Stay With Me for it’s likeness to Petty’s I Won’t Back Down.
There seems to be a trend that older musicians (or their estates) feel that they own the right to a specific feel or rhythm. If you listen closely to both songs, there are indeed some similar aspects to the songs, but they are still two completely different songs.
Let’s look at it from a broader aspect for a second before we look at the particulars of the songs. Motown as a genre has a very specific feel to it, the British Invasion bands have a certain feel to them. A songs feel cannot be copyrighted.
So just from a quick listen, we can indeed take away a few similarities. The first one that pops out is the rhythm of what I presume to be a cowbell. However, Blurred Lines features it’s cowbell hits in double time compared to Got To Give It Up. Where Gaye features a cowbell with quarter and eighth notes, we see Thicke feature eighth and sixteenth notes in a similar, but still varied rhythm. To go with the cowbell there is also a similar bass line that sounds like it could possibly be coming from a keyboard in both cases giving it a similar sound. Outside of that, the tempos feel similar.
So we’ve established they sound similar. That does not constitute infringement. Music is iterative. People build off of what came before. Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones got their starts covering other musicians. They got their sound from other musicians and built off of that. A few weeks ago I posted a Funny or Die video showing that Tom Petty has a few songs that sound an awful lot like some other songs that came before. If lawsuits were as prevalent back then as they are now Tom Petty would’ve been screwed.
The verdict in this case will have an impact in the music industry in a very negative manner. To me this was clearly a money grab and nothing else and I truly hope this is appealed and overturned.
Right now I feel free from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s chains.[^2]