In a rare copyright infringement case that has reached the trial stages, this week, jurors will decide whether the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. infringes on the Marvin Gaye song, “Got to Give it Up.” In response to cease and desist letters from the Gaye estate, Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. preemptively brought suit in March of 2013, asking the Court for a declaratory judgment that the song “Blurred Lines” was non-infringing. In response, the Gaye estate brought counterclaims alleging intentional copyright infringement.
In order to prevail on their infringement claims, the Gaye estate must show: 1) ownership of a valid copyright; 2) the defendants had access to “Got to Give it Up;” and 3) that “Blurred Lines” is substantially similar to “Got to Give it Up.” Of these three elements, only the third is at issue in the case.
Earlier in the case, the defendants unsuccessfully moved for summary judgment that “Blurred Lines” was non-infringing. Although the motion was unsuccessful, the judge’s ruling contained a silver lining. In his decision, Judge Kronstadt ruled that because the Gaye estate had failed to make sufficient sound recording deposits as part of their original copyright registration (governed by the former 1909 Copyright Act), at trial, the Gaye estate will only be allowed to cite to elements of the copyright that were included in their sheet music deposit. This ruling will likely prove advantageous to the defendants, because the sound recording of “Got to Give it Up” contains numerous elements (including some of the vocals, the percussive instruments, keyboards, and bass parts) that were not included in the plaintiffs’ sheet music deposit accompanying their federal copyright registration.
The case has also had its share of curiosities, including wild deposition testimony in which Thicke claimed that he was continuously high on Vicodin, vodka, and cocaine for an entire year and as a result, couldn’t have possibly written “Blurred Lines.” In opening statements, counsel for the Gaye estate cautioned the jury that Pharrell and Thicke “will wink at you and they’ll be charming. But keep one thing in mind. They are professional performers.” The trial is expected to be concluded this week. Stay tuned for the verdict – and judge for yourself whether “Blurred Lines” is derivative of the Gaye original, below: