By: Jay Ray / @jayrayisthename
First, a little backstory ...
When I first heard "Blurred Lines," I was in a club. I had been dancing, when I suddenly stopped mid-dance, turned to Brody and exclaimed "what the hell is this?" He then informed me that it was the new Robin Thicke song. I remember curiously listening, decided that I didn't really dig it, and that they channeled Marvin almost to the letter with the groove, but not quite.
Fast forward ...
"Blurred Lines" is literally everywhere, undoubtedly making tons of money, and still heavily steeped in a very distinct groove - (Pause). "Got To Give It Up" is a very unique sounding song from the head of Marvin himself, but influenced by elements of funk, jazz and doo-wop. It uses a recognizable percussive arrangement, that, if imitated, would instantly remind you where it came from. Sidebar: It unseated "Dreams" as the Hot 100 #1 song in 1977. "DREAMS" - yes, by Fleetwood Mac - that amazing song.
I was shocked when I learned that the writers had launched a preemptive lawsuit against the Gaye family to prove the song's originality. I was shocked not because I think they stole "Got To Give It Up" - they clearly didn't - but because "Blurred Lines" was a heavily influenced song. So much so I thought that Gaye should have been credited in the first place. Remember, "Got To Give It Up" is really distinct.
This is where the traditional rules of how to think about copyright infringement get a little muddy. There's always been the thinking that "you can't copyright a groove" in music. Generally, I think that's true, because everything is an influence on something. This case challenges that idea, because in some cases that sound, rhythm or combination is so distinct that it truly is intellectual property that may be, in fact, uniquely owned and can be challenged. I just can't think of a time when anyone has actually tried to challenge it before.
There are certain rhythm patterns that seem like they've always been in existence. Reggae music is a good example of this. Ask any person what reggae sounds like and they're guaranteed to give you the same guitar pattern. Which is based on the drum pattern, and is distinct to that genre of music. Infringement? Maybe 50 years ago yes, but now, I'd argue no. Who owns that rhythm pattern? It's public domain at this point, because it's on so many recordings.
I didn't think the Gaye family would win their lawsuit, based on the way these cases have been tried before, and it was clear it wasn't the same song. I was both excited and scared when they did win.
The sky isn't falling.
This doesn't mean that artists can't use influence to create anymore. It does mean that acknowledging that influence and how to proceed with it may be something to think about. (Do it after you're done as to not impede your creative process. Trying to not do MJ, while trying to be MJ-like is just too much thinking, ladies and gents.) Use your network to ask the questions if you need to. I would have advised the writers engage the Gaye estate for permission to credit Gaye and ensure royalties were paid. It was just the right thing to do in this case.
In closing, this is a good time to mention that this ruling does have implications in all areas of creative expression. Painters - watch out for using distinct strokes, color pallets and composition ideas. Choreographers - watch out for using certain movement combinations from key pieces. The line is a bit more blurred.
This note was inspired by this article. I did not copy, infringe, quote or interpolate it. :-) I think it's good reading though. http://www.vulture.com/2015/03/what-the-blurred-lines-ruling-means-for-music.html