You’ve got to understand that the law is not about common sense. It’s not about deciding who is right. And even though someone or something might smell guilty, that does not mean they are, under the law. Which is a good thing. Because it makes life predictable.
So, the judge didn’t allow the recording of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” to be played in court, at least at first, and it came down to the sheet music, and you could see why Pharrell and Robin Thicke thought they had a chance — at least their lawyers thought they had a chance — to get the jury to rule that their song “Blurred Lines,” did not infringe on the copyright of Gaye’s song. But juries are notorious for running on emotions.
This should have been settled out of court. Then again, you’ve got to come up with a number, you’ve got to have an agreement. For every case like Sam Smith’s out-of-court settlement with Tom Petty on “Stay With Me,” where the parties are amenable, there are others where one party — and sometimes even both — is entrenched and unreasonable. That’s what they don’t tell you about the law. It’s not about the courtroom, it’s about negotiation.
But where is the line?
Sure, there are a limited number of notes, but the truth is that most people don’t have enough money to sue, so stuff never gets to court, never mind a settlement. And then there are those who let it ride. But when you have heirs who didn’t write the music to begin with, and they are living off the proceeds, it’s hard to let things go.
As for the amount of money made by the track, revealed in the courtroom as nearly $16.7 million, that’s a good thing. For more than a decade, we’ve had to hear how you just can’t make any money in music anymore. Then you’ve got these guys rolling in dough. It’ll encourage people to make music, to the degree the numbers are even remembered.
That’s right, Pharrell and Thicke’s checks are an antidote to the siren song of Wall Street and the world of finance. If you can make this much on recordings, and you’ve got live income too? Who wouldn’t rather be a musician?
Still, if you rip off someone else’s track, consciously or subconsciously, and you have a hit with it, chances are you’re gonna be sued.
Hell, you’re gonna be sued even if there is no similarity. The old axiom applies: “Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ.” Talk to the superstars; they’ve all been harassed and sued for no good reason. It goes with the territory.
But if it’s too close, you can wind up on the wrong end of a $7.3 million verdict.
As for this decision producing a rash of these lawsuits, give me a break. Were the courts littered with cases after Bright Tunes v. George Harrison for “He’s So Fine”/“My Sweet Lord”? No. And Harrison wound up having to buy the failing company.
So the only story here is people might think a bit harder over whether they’ve copied a tune, and if they have, and the song makes bank, they’re gonna get a phone call. Once upon a time, rappers sampled hit records willy-nilly; that’s history.
Still, as previously noted, juries are unpredictable; and their judgments are often enough reduced on appeal, or the cases sent back for retrial. Frequently, settlement is achieved and the number you see in the news is never paid.
So, sleep tight and know that music still rains down money, no matter what everybody in the business keeps saying.