Just as the near-universal outrage at the verdict in the “Blurred Lines”/”Got To Give It Up” plagiarism trial seemed to be dying down, the controversy over whether it was a just ruling seems to have morphed into a contest to see who can be the more unsympathetic party: the loathsome Robin Thicke, or the heirs to Marvin Gaye’s estate.
It seems that a $7.4 million judgment — nearly half of “Blurred Lines”’ total earnings — is not enough for the Gayes. Per The Hollywood Reporter:
The Gaye family is now pushing for the judge to “correct” the jury’s verdict to add Universal Music, Interscope Records and Star Trak Entertainment to the list of infringers. Additionally, the judge is also being asked to set aside the jury’s decision to give Clifford Harris, Jr. (aka T.I.) a pass and hold him accountable too.
They are also hitting Thicke with another plagiarism suit for having a superfluous ‘e’ at the end of his surname.
The Gayes also filed a motion to impound all copies of “Blurred Lines” — a laughable notion on its face, even if music were still carried on physical media:
As drastic as that sounds, the Gayes states in its court papers that it does not intend to “interminably cease the exploitation of ‘Blurred Lines,’ but instead seek this injunction and impoundment in order to negotiate an agreement with Plaintiffs and Counter-Defendants for proper attribution of Marvin Gaye as a writer of ‘Blurred Lines’ and for the use of ‘Got to Give it Up’ in the infringing work, so that the Gayes may share in the copyright and all future proceeds of ‘Blurred Lines,’ as is their right.”
The one and only part of the ruling in this case that made any sense to me was the fact that T.I., a rapper I know nothing about, was excused from any liability because he did a rap verse on “Blurred Lines” that obviously in no way stole from, imitated, or otherwise infringed on Gaye’s composition. With this action, the Gayes want to go after him, too, as well as the record labels and distributors.
Everyone who disagrees with the ruling seems to feel that despite whatever distaste we may feel for Thicke et al, it sets an awful precedent and opens the door to more lawsuits seeking a piece of hit songs that are not, in any strict sense, copying existing music. (If this suit had happened 60 years ago, we wouldn’t have “The Blues,” we’d have “those 12 Robert Johnson songs.”) That’s certainly how I feel about it, but even I didn’t think the precedent would be followed on so soon, by the same people.
Some people have argued that the decision will have a chilling effect on creativity — that musicians will be unable to create anything for fear that they will be sued. I don’t see that as the problem here, as there will be hack songwriters (like Robin Thicke) for as long as there are songwriters.
The danger is in the fact that as it gets harder and harder to make a dime in the music business, people who have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle — a lifestyle easily afforded by the pre-digital music business — will jump at any potential revenue stream, even if it means going to court, and particularly if you have become accustomed to said lifestyle through no talent of your own and your meal ticket is washed up or deceased.
(Nona Gaye, Marvin’s 40-year-old daughter, had a promising acting career at one point, appearing opposite Will Smith in ALI and THE MATRIX sequels, but in a little more than a decade she has gone from looking like a supermodel to looking older than her mother (see image above). It appears that she may have inherited her father’s taste for the narcotic, which might explain both her odd demeanor outside the courthouse — she had to be literally held up while she continually bawled as though it were Marvin’s funeral — and why she is so desperate for money.)
The Gayes seem to feel that “Blurred Lines” is oppressing them in some way: Nona said immediately after the decision that she felt “free from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s chains,” as though “Blurred Lines” had somehow erased “Got To Give It Up” from the world’s memory, or was preventing anyone from ever buying it again. If anything, the opposite is true: this whole mess reminded everyone how great “Got To Give It Up” is. The problem is that although I’m sure a lot of people went back to the song, probably very few of them bought it; they probably listened to it on YouTube, or Spotify, or downloaded it illegally, so they didn’t see any profit, which led to them feeling that Thicke et al were eating their lunch.
So they sued, and against all common sense they won, but they’re looking at that $7.4 million dollars as the last money they will ever make (because it probably is) and realizing they’d better make hay while the sun’s shining. So now they’re going after T.I. and the labels too.
If they win, will rappers be so cavalier about doing guest verses on people’s records? The only way T.I. could possibly be held liable for “Blurred Lines” is if the judge decides not actively intervening in the session and telling Thicke and Williams to cease and desist is the same as writing the song, which would be like holding a witness to a bank robbery liable for not stopping it.
Worse (much worse, because who cares about guest verses), going after the record labels is going to make the labels themselves much more risk-averse, which is never a good thing in the always tricky marriage of art and commerce. It’s bad enough having the A&R guy telling you “I don’t hear a single” — it’s even worse if they’re in the studio telling you, “you know, the high-hat kind of sounds like the one on an old Wham! B-side, you better rethink it, Andrew Ridgely has amazing lawyers.” Even if the Gayes’ motion against the labels fails (as it probably will), the labels are going to have to hire lawyers to defend themselves and history does not suggest that they will just absorb that kind of cost; it will soon be built into every contract as “liability insurance” or some shit, further squeezing artists whether or not they ever end up on the wrong side of a claim like this.
Bottom line: the Gaye family may actually succeed in destroying what’s left of the music business, so let’s hope that a) Thicke and Williams win on appeal, b) that this additional motion fails, and c) Nona Gaye gets the help she needs.