Brief Says `Blurred Lines' Shouldn't Have Gone to Jury

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

Aug. 25 — The jury that found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams infringed a 1970s Marvin Gaye song to the tune of $7 million with their 2013 smash hit “Blurred Lines” never should have gotten the case, according to a brief filed April 23 by Williams and Thicke in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ( Williams v. Gaye, 9th Cir., No. 15-56880, opening brief filed 8/23/16 ).

The “Blurred Lines” creators are appealing a jury verdict that they infringed Gaye's “Got to Give It Up” by copying the feel, sound and instrumentation of the R&B hit, rather than its melody or lyrics. They said they should have won the case on summary judgment, with the court resolving it before the jury got it.

“ ‘Blurred Lines' is not substantially similar to ‘Got To Give It Up' as a matter of law,” the brief said. “What happened was a cascade of legal errors warranting this Court's reversal or vacatur for new trial.”

Also, the trial court failed to remove from consideration elements of the songs that are not protectable under copyright law, and told the jury to consider things it shouldn't have, they said.

The filing is the first time the singer-songwriters are setting forth in detail their arguments in the appeal, which was originally filed back in December.

The brief said the trial court made numerous errors, including what experts were heard and how their testimony was weighed in addition to what evidence was allowed to be presented to the jury, which was improperly instructed. Damages were also erroneously calculated, the brief said.

Brief Says Verdict Chills Creativity

As a result, “if left to stand, the ‘Blurred Lines' verdict would chill musical creativity and inhibit the process by which later artists draw inspiration from earlier artists to create new popular music,” the brief said.

Furthermore, Gaye's song was protected only to the extent that it was recorded in sheet music as deposited with the Copyright Office—“that is, a skeletal sketch of the song's main melody, lyrics, and chords,” it said. Other features of the record—like percussion parts and background noises—are not protected and shouldn't have been part of the comparison between the songs, the brief said.

Source Material:

Williams v. Bridgeport Music Inc.

Declaratory Judgment Complaint: Aug. 15, 2013

Denial of Summary Judgment: Oct. 30, 2014

Jury Verdict: March 10, 2015

Result Had Effect on Industry Practices

Soul and R&B singer Gaye, who launched his career in the late 1950s, recorded his most successful hits in the early 1970s. In 1977, he included one studio recording—“Got to Give It Up”—on the otherwise live album “Live at the London Palladium.” Released as a single, the song was a chart-topper.

In 2013, Williams, Thicke and Clifford Harris Jr.—a rapper who performs under the name “T.I.”—recorded “Blurred Lines” for Thicke's album of the same name.

“Blurred Lines” became a worldwide hit for Thicke, and its racy music videos and lyrics drew considerable public controversy. Gaye's heirs accused Williams and Thicke of infringing the 1977 record. Williams and Thicke brought a declaratory judgment action, asking the court to declare that “Blurred Lines” didn't infringe “Got to Give It Up.”

The case eventually went to trial, and a jury awarded Gaye's heirs $7 million (48 PTD, 3/12/15).

After the verdict, some R&B artists said they had started changing their crediting practices. Copyright lawyers told Bloomberg BNA that the case had called into question what was infringement and what wasn't (180 PTD, 9/17/15).

King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano LLP and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represented Williams, Thicke and the others associated with making “Blurred Lines.” Arnold & Porter LLP, Wargo & French LLP and King & Ballow Attorneys represented Gaye's heirs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at

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