The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld the district court's decision finding Robin Thicke’s and Pharrell Williams’ chart-topping 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" infringed the copyright on Marvin Gaye's song "Got To Give It Up." The Ninth Circuit also upheld the district court’s award of more than $3 million in actual damages, $5 million in infringer’s profits and a continuing royalty of 50% of future songwriter and publishing revenues generated from the song.
BY OLIVER HERZFELD, FORBES IP COUNSEL, AUGUST 20, 2013 - The composers of the hit song “Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. (a/k/a T.I.), have commenced a lawsuit against Marvin Gaye’s family, as owners of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”, and Bridgeport Music, as owner of Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways”. The complaint is for declaratory relief, meaning the plaintiffs are not pursuing any affirmative action, injunction or award of damages; they are only seeking a judgment that decides the rights of the parties. The plaintiffs commenced the lawsuit because both Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music have threatened the plaintiffs with copyright infringement litigation based on similarities between “Blurred Lines” and each of “Got to Give It Up” and “Sexy Ways”, respectively. The key question of the lawsuit is: could the composers be held liable for copyright infringement if they were influenced and inspired by Marvin Gaye’s and Funkadelic’s prior works, but did not actually sample such prior works or otherwise literally copy any of Marvin Gaye’s or Funkadelic’s music or lyrics?” Surprisingly, the answer is: “it depends.”