The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals mostly affirmed a jury’s 2015 $5.3 million verdict that decided Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” infringed upon Marvin Gaye’s 1977 composition “Got to Give It Up” — but it did clear rapper T.I., who appears on Thicke’s song, as well as Interscope Records, which released it. The news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
The majority opinion from Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. rejected Thicke’s team’s argument that Gaye’s copyright is only entitled to “thin” protection, stating that “Musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression.
“We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Thicke Parties’ motion for a new trial,” he continued.
However, T.I (real name: Clifford Harris Jr.), who was cleared by a jury before being punished by the trial judge, is once again off the hook, as is Interscope.
“Harris and the Interscope Parties contend that the district court erred in overturning the jury’s general verdicts finding in their favor,” writes Smith. “We agree. First, the Gayes waived any challenge to the consistency of the jury’s general verdicts. Second, even had the Gayes preserved their challenge, neither Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) nor our decisions in Westinghouse and El-Hakem v. BJY Inc., conferred authority on the district court to upset the jury’s verdicts in this case. Third, as to Harris specifically, the district court erred for the additional reason that no evidence showed Harris was vicariously liable.”
Smith, however, was unmoved. “[T]he dissent prophesies that our decision will shake the foundations of copyright law, imperil the music industry, and stifle creativity,” he wrote. “It even suggests that the Gayes’ victory will come back to haunt them, as the Gayes’ musical compositions may now be found to infringe any number of famous songs preceding them. Respectfully,hese conjectures are unfounded hyperbole. Our decision does not grant license to copyright a musical style or ‘groove.’ Nor does it upset the balance Congress struck between the freedom of artistic expression, on the one hand, and copyright protection of the fruits of that expression, on the other hand. … Far from heralding the end of musical creativity as we know it, our decision, even construed broadly, reads more accurately as a cautionary tale for future trial counsel wishing to maximize their odds of success.”
The 2015 verdict has had a strong effect on subsequent cases, with many parties shying away from jury trials and electing to settle out of court, as has been the case with Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Mark Ronson compositions.