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In a decision by a federal court in Los Angeles, singers Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke have been ordered to pay damages of $7.3 million to the Marvin Gaye estate. The jury has ruled that Williams’ single “Blurred Lines” infringed the copyright of Gaye’s song “Got to Give it up.”
The verdict may set a legal precedent for future as the two songs do have a similar sound but have different note and chord sequences. In light of this verdict, Williams has warned that the creative industries are now at a risk of copyright litigation. “The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else,” says Williams.
Williams points out that if the creative industries (including fashion, music, design and many others) lose their freedom to be inspired by other work and material, then the entertainment industry may just end up frozen in litigation.On the other hand, Gaye’s lawyers defended their stand on the grounds that Williams’ song “Blurred Lines” copied elements of “Got to Give it Up.” During the trial, they called a music expert as a witness who testified that there was a constellation of similar elements in this song. The Gaye family has also fined a new injunction to prevent the further copying, distribution and performance of Williams’ song.
Williams however is still defending himself and claims he has not broken any copyright rules. According to him, it is not possible to own feelings or emotions. The notations and the progression were different and thus there was no infringement. Blurred Lines was one of the biggest hits of 2013 and generated approximately $17 million in profits. Williams has had a string of hits apart from Blurred Lines including “Get Luck” and “Happy.”
The music industry has also extended its support for Pharrell Williams. Paul McGuinness, the former manager of U2 points out that this verdict is peculiar since it does not refer to the usual infringement such as the writing of the song or the track. He finds it strange that a song has been penalized on the basis of its mood.
Producer Harvey Weinstein also highlights that if this is the verdict in this case, then there is no saying who might be next. Everyone quotes things, sometimes subconsciously. It does not make any sense to sue another filmmaker for making a movie that feels like another one.
Williams is adamant that the verdict is wrong and if you kill the ability for people to be inspired, the in essence you kill creativity.