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VOL. 128 | NO. 169 | Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vic Fleming

Offense Best Defense in Music Suit?

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The crossword clue was “Gray areas, maybe.” The answer was BORDER LINES. With 11 letters, it fit nicely across the puzzle’s center.

When I saw the word “lines” was involved, I pulled for “blurred” to be the first word. Too many letters, though. In “Blurred Lines,” we have a pop culture-intellectual property dispute. News of which did not break until suit was filed.

The plaintiffs claim to have “the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic and their musical legacies,” but must “reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest to those artists.” Read that: “No respect and admiration at all for the actual defendants.”

Before reading the rest of this column, take a trip over to YouTube and listen, first, to the Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give It Up.” Which was No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for a week in June 1977. How it got there I’ll never understand.

Now, listen to Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines.” The latter is in its 10th or 11th week as Billboard’s No. 1 song. See last sentence of prior paragraph.

Now make a list of the similarities and differences. I jest, of course, with that directive (what do you think this is, a test?). However, having listened to the two tunes back-to-back, you might better understand why there is litigation pending.

My source is the Huffington Post, which cites The Hollywood Reporter. Suit was filed by Thicke and co-songwriters Pharrell Williams and T.I. The defendants are Marvin Gaye’s family, Funkadelic and Bridgeport Music.

The Thicke group claim that the Gaye group has alleged that “Got to Give It Up” and “Blurred Lines” have striking similarities, that they “feel” or “sound” the same. And that the “Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.”

Funkadelic is said to have claimed there’s an inappropriate similarity between Blurred Lines and its song, “Sexy Ways.” Bridgeport owns the rights to both “Sexy Ways” and “Got to Give It Up.”

So, you get the scenario: A demand letter goes out from one group to the other: “You copied off my paper. You made an A. Now, I demand some of what that A is getting you.”

“I did not copy off your work. I made this A all on my own. Leave me alone.”

Before the claimants could sue, the A-makers preempted the effort. They claim (might we presume adamantly?) that “there are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements. … Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else’s composition.”

Meanwhile, all involved hope “Blurred Lines” just keeps on keeping on. And the rest of us can sit back and … enjoy the music.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law.

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