Jury May Decide If ‘Blurred Lines’ Copied Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’

Robin Thicke
Ian Gavan/Getty Images

A federal judge said that a jury should decide whether the Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and Clifford Harris Jr. composed “Blurred Lines” copied from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”

U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt on Thursday denied a effort by Williams, Thicke and Harris to quickly resolve the dispute over the ownership of the song, ruling that Gaye’s family members “have made a sufficient showing that elements of ‘Blurred Lines’ may be substantially similar to protected, original elements of ‘Got to Give It Up.'” He made his ruling after several experts offered reports and testimony comparing the two compositions, with some conflicting results.

Kronstadt also rejected an effort by Thicke and Paula Patton to reject Gaye family members’ claims that their song “Love After War” copied Gaye’s “After the Dance.” The judge wrote that the expert analysis of the songs shows a “sufficient disagreement” concerning the extrinsic similarity of the two songs.

The Gaye family offers “evidence that ‘Love After War’ contains melodic and harmonic features substantially similar to those in ‘After the Dance,’ notwithstanding the inversion of the melody in the choruses and the substitutions and modulation in the harmony,” he wrote.

A trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 10.

Kronstadt noted in his decision that Thicke had told GQ magazine that shortly before “Blurred Lines” was composed, he told Williams that “Got to Give It Up” was one of “his favorite songs of all time” and that he wanted to “make something like that, something with that groove.” And while Thicke told similar stories to other media outlets, after the lawsuit was filed, he denied that he was thinking of Gaye when “Blurred Lines” was written. At his deposition, Thicke claimed that he was intoxicated when he made statements about the influence of Gaye on the works.

Kronstadt, however, said that Thicke’s “inconsistent statements” do not “constitute direct evidence of copying,” and they didn’t affect his analysis of the dispute.

Greg Gabriel of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, said that although the case has generated a lot of attention given that it is dealing with a recent hit song and a classic, Kronstadt’s decision was a “fact specific analysis” that will be left to a jury to decide if there is substantial similarity. Thicke’s statements could be presented to a jury, he said. “I’m sure none of that helped him, but it shouldn’t really be relevant to a decision,” Gabriel said. Admitting to have been inspired by a previous work does not necessarily mean that a composer has infringed on a copyright, he noted. Williams, Thicke and Harris have conceded that they had access to “Got to Give It Up” and “After the Dance” when the newer works were composed.

There also is an issue as to exactly what parts of Gaye’s music fall under the scope of what is protected. Kronstadt wrote that the Gaye family “failed to produce evidence that creates a genuine issue as to whether the copyrights in ‘Got to Give It Up’ and ‘After the Dance’ encompass material other than that reflected in the lead sheets deposited with the Copyright Office.” He wrote that in making his decision, the lead sheets define the scope of the copyright, as opposed to other sounds in the works.

Howard King, representing Williams, Thicke and Harris, said that the ruling was “not surprising given the extraordinary difficulty in prevailing at the summary judgment stage, especially where each side offers conflicting opinions from multiple musicologists.”

“The jury will now decide this case on the merits, limited to what is in the written composition, without being influenced by the sound recordings,” he said in a statement. “Since the compositions at issue are completely different, we remain confident of prevailing at trial.”

Richard Busch, attorney representing the Gaye family, said, “We have always felt very strongly about the case. The Gaye family and our entire team now look forward to the trial, and proving our claim that this iconic song of the legendary Marvin Gaye was willfully copied.”