The “Blurred Lines/Got To Give It Up/” and Robin Thicke/Pharrell/Marvin Gaye court case, and what now looks like there being an appeal lodged against the guilty verdict, has become an avalanche of blurred lines itself on social media.


 

You’re either on one side or the other whereas, as expected, here come the expected examples and comparisons and similarities of other songs. Where will all this garbage end?

The problem is that at the end of the day, and after everything has been dragged through the courts, and dragged on and on, no one will be the wiser. 

Personally, there was a conscious effort to replicate the “groove and vibe” of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”- but is “Blurred Lines” melodically similar? 

To some yes, to others, like myself, who feel Gaye’s original was simple “riffing” over a backing track, no. No, in that “Got To Give It Up” has no definite melody line. One can listen to “Get Lucky” and hear a stronger resemblance- in parts- to the actual melody of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something.” 

What’s come outta these “blurred lines” is this: Where do homage and inspiration start, and musical grand theft auto end, and is this case one that’s slipped through the net and should never have reached the tipping point that it has? 

What’s on the positive side of the ledger is that, hey ho, it’s off to work we go, as the sales figures prove that there is still plenty of money to be made making music. 

How “Blurred Lines” has made so much money that even if Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke end up forking out $7m, they’ll still be around $10m in the black is worth studying to understand the ROI- the return on investment- and how and where this money was made. It should offer a sliver of hope to struggling songwriters, especially.

The other big question is what happens to future sales of this one song- and who now owns the publishing- and will there be a further case when the publishers of “Got To Give It Up” sue the publishers of “Blurred Lines”?  

Pandora’s box has been opened and don’t be surprised if even the musos who played on the Gaye track get in on the act. Or their lawyers do- new-found lawyers who’ll take on their case for free and a percentage of the possible financial payout if they win. It’s opportunist bullshit that’s been around for decades in the music industry.

All this reminds me of the case brought against George Harrison, who was found guilty of infringing on the copyright of the Lonnie Mack-written hit for the Chiffons in “He’s So Fine” with his own song, “My Sweet Lord.”

Decades later came the revelation that then-Beatles manager Allen Klein, below with Harrison, also held the publishing rights to “He’s So Fine”, and Harrison’s infectious chant to his “lord”, which, personally, had only a vague similarity to the Chiffons hit, was an opportunistic move by a shrewd lawyer and a case that would be thrown outta court today. 

More recently, there has been the Joe Satriani/Coldplay/Viva La Vida/If I Could Fly case, which quickly died a death with an out of court settlement. 

The bigger case and bigger question here is whether- and how much- the “Blurred Lines” case will affect the Pharrell Brand- an in-demand musician with a deft knowledge to produce hits and create some brilliant sounds, but, like another hit maker in will i am, not exactly known as a prolific tunesmith or songwriter. 

Both are not exactly Cole Porter or George and Ira Gershwin or Lennon and McCartney, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Jimmy Webb etc.

Like the great Sly Stone or the legend that was James Brown, Pharrell Williams and Mr Black Eye Pea borrow from the past and package tracks in swaddling new robes and sell it to a generation of music fans, who, quite rightly, listen to their work at face value and take it for what it is.

So, will the “Blurred Lines” ruling mean a hesitancy by artists to use Pharrell Williams? 

Like George Harrison, who went through a bout of anger and insecurity in writing songs which came through in his song he titled “This Song” with Monty Python’s Eric Idle calling out, “Could be Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and, “No, could be Rescue Me”, will Pharrell Williams be concerned that influence and homage might clash with originality and another round of lawsuits?

Closer to home, and to all us non-Pharrells without the financial cushion of armies of legal beagles to fight our battles, but still writing songs, will we wonder if, like Sam Smith and his co-songwriters of “Stay With Me”, we’ve unknowingly lifted another song- in Smith’s case, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty’s chorus to “I Won’t Back Down”? But that whole episode ended amicably with Petty taking the high road, and quite rightly saying, “These things happen”.

As always, it will be the lawyers who’ll make the money while ramming another stake into the heart of music and the creative process of actually MAKING music.

Hans Ebert
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk

  1. [...] with the usage of a number of bars in a song and the sounds of similarity, etc. You know, the same blurred lines (pun intended) that got singer Robin Thicke in [...]

  2. [...] do with the usage of a number of bars in a song and/or too much similarity, etc. You know, the same blurred lines (pun intended) that got singer Robin Thicke in [...]

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