July 14, 2017 Musicology, Opinion 2 Comments

The Blurred Lines verdict was wrong in my opinion, but…

Blurred Lines needn’t be quite as unsettling as it’s being made out to be! Yes, I’m having conversations where attorneys are putting it in perspective: “We are operating in a ‘post-Blurred Lines world’ now, so my client and I have to consider…”  And I get it to an extent. We have to consider whatever new math “Blurred” might have introduced and factor in what infringement may subsequently look like, especially to a jury. Litigation carries risk and like any field, if you can be better than your opposition at calculating risk, you might gain the upper hand. But we’re not accurately calculating risk right now. We’re offsides.

“Is Blurred Lines an outlier, or is past prologue?!”

It’s both and it’s neither, but let’s err on “outlier.” One jury came back with a screwy verdict in a high-profile case. Juries are somewhat unpredictable. We didn’t know that? Of course, we knew that. That’s the risk taken by both sides. Why so shaken?

There were enough x-factors here for us to discount this more properly. Let’s do it now!

  1. Mr. Thicke did not comport himself very well.
  2. Both he and Mr. Williams were ill-advised to talk so much about their admiration for Marvin Gaye. Both Williams and Thicke came off as snide and superior. They perhaps weren’t liked.
  3. The plaintiffs on the other hand, won sympathy. Heavens to Betsy, they were sued preemptively!
  4. On top of that, Richard Busch and team were evidently brilliant in preparation and in the courtroom. Things turned.

Again, what has changed? Nothing!

The Blurred Lines verdict is mostly an outlier. It’s prologue, but it’s not as significant as we’re making it. It was on TV and in the news, the damages awarded were enormous, it’s bound to be overemphasized it in our minds, but it’s time for perspective. Particularly in that, it’s headed to appeal soon. It might even go away. Can we predict that? No. But still, since it should, it might.

I knew what substantial similarity was before this verdict and I still do. Pharell and Thicke did not infringe upon the copyright of “Got To Give It Up.” Infringement is ultimately binary, but calculating it is a matter of degree across multiple criteria. This isn’t close. We still live in the same world and the rules did not and must not change.

Let’s please not wring our hands over this much longer and let’s instead let artists get back to writing music inspired by the music that came before them and not punish them even when they admit it. Copyright law was written to enable that, and it’s noble. If you like new popular music that you can immediately enjoy and relate to, you want music to be inspired by what came before it. That’s the art form. It would be a shame to let it be messed up so easily.

Written by Brian McBrearty