A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a Los Angeles jury’s finding that the Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke smash hit “Blurred Lines” infringed on the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena largely affirmed the $5.3 million verdict that determined that Thicke and Williams lifted key elements of Gaye’s 1977 disco hit. The panel cleared rapper T.I., who lends a rap segment to the hit, and Interscope Records, which issued the single.
“Musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression,” Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in the opinion, concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Thicke’s motion for a new trial.
Thicke’s attorney, Howard King, indicated that there would be a further appeal.
“We stand by the fact that these are two entirely different songs,” King said. “The thorough and well-reasoned dissenting judge’s opinion is compelling and enhances the prospects for success in a further review by the Court of Appeals.”
In her dissent, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote that “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s song “differed in melody, harmony, and rhythm,” finding that the judge’s refusal to allow the jury to compare the two sound recordings “improperly allowed the defendants to copyright a musical style.”
Following a seven-day trial and two days of deliberation, a federal civil jury in 2015 found that Williams, Thicke and Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr.’s song “Blurred Lines” — the world’s best-selling single of 2013 — infringed the Gaye family’s copyright.
The jury awarded Gaye’s heirs a $7.4 million verdict, later trimmed by the judge to $5.3 million plus half of ongoing “Blurred Lines” royalties.
Attorneys for Thicke and Williams argued in their appeal that the trial was “a cascade of legal errors” warranting a reversal by the appellate court. Jurors never heard the actual recording of “Got to Give It Up” because laws at the time of its release allowed for only the sheet music composition, not the sound recording, to be copyrighted.
U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt ruled that jurors could consider only recreations of the work based on the “lead sheet” deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office. As a result, dueling musicologists offered hours of opinions as to the whether the musical notation made for songs that were alike or not.