Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams will have to hand over a total of $5 million for using part of a Marvin Gaye song in their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines,” a federal judge has ruled.
The judgment by the U.S. District Court for Central California ends a high-profile copyright case that tested the boundary between influence and infringement. Thicke and Williams argued the two songs didn’t share a melody or lyrics. A jury and an appeals court found enough similarities in phrases, hooks, bass lines, harmonic structures, keyboard chords and vocal melodies.
Thicke, Williams and record label More Water From Nazareth Publishing Inc. must pay $2.8 million in actual damages. The court stripped Thicke of $1.8 million of profits from the song, and Williams and Nazareth of $358,000. Gaye’s estate also will receive 50 percent of the royalty revenues from “Blurred Lines” going forward.
The order cemented a July 2015 jury verdict finding the pair had copied “Got to Give It Up.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the verdict in March and refused to rehear the case The appeals court resisted calls to compare the works and evaluate for themselves whether the songs were sufficiently similar as a matter of law. The court said it was inappropriate to second-guess a jury’s call, especially since they didn’t request a judgment as a matter of law in district court.
The court also rejected Thicke and Williams’s claims that Gaye’s copyright protection should give his heirs “thin” protection supporting infringement only if the two works are virtually identical. The court declined to answer the question of whether the copy of Gaye’s work deposited with the Copyright Office—the “lead sheet,” which generally notes only the melody and lyrics of a song and not its instrumentation or other factors—defined the scope of the legal protection.
Some music scholars and copyright lawyers worried the decision effectively granted a copyright to a genre or style rather than a composition. They also feared the verdict could encourage more litigation among rights-holders, adding costs to creators.
Gaye’s estate dismissed any alleged chilling effect on creativity, and said the courts simply found one song had infringed a number of elements of another.
Judge John A. Kronstadt entered the Dec. 6 judgment.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and King Holmes Paterno and Berliner LLP represented Williams and Thicke. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, Wargo & French LLP and King & Ballow represented Marvin Gaye’s heirs.
The case is Williams v. Gaye, C.D. Cal., No. 13-6004, Judgment entered 12/6/18
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(Corrects the name of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer in last sentence)