Was it simply an homage? Or flat-out copying? The jury decided Tuesday it was copying.
That’s what has been at issue in the musically-packed, big-money Los Angeles trial over 2013 hit Blurred Lines.
Musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. preemptively sued the family of late singer Marvin Gaye for a determination on whether their hit song was an infringement on the copyright for Gaye’s 1977 hit song, Got to Give it Up. Gaye’s family counter-sued.
On Tuesday, Gaye’s camp emerged victorious. The eight member jury voted unanimously that Thicke and song producer Williams had infringed on the 1977 Gaye song.
The jury awarded $7.3 million to Gaye’s family. His children — Nona, Frankie and Marvin Gaye III — were present in court when the verdict was read.
The jury reached the decision after hearing nearly a week of testimony about similarities between Blurred Lines — the biggest hit of 2013 — and Gaye’s hit.
Thicke and Williams denied copying. Their song earned more than $5 million apiece for each.
Although both are credited as its songwriters, Williams wrote the song in about an hour in 2012, and the pair recorded it in one night, according to the testimony.
The verdict could tarnish the legacy of Williams, a reliable hit-maker who has won Grammy Awards and appears on NBC’s music competition show The Voice.
An attorney for Thicke and Williams has said a decision in favor of Gaye’s heirs could have a chilling effect on musicians who try to emulate an era or another artist’s sound.
Williams told jurors that Gaye’s music was part of the soundtrack of his youth, but he denied using any of it to create Blurred Lines.
The Williams, Thicke and T.I camp contended they did nothing wrong in being inspired by Gaye and evoking the feeling of Gaye’s music.
But lawyers for Gaye’s children — Frankie and Nona Gaye — accused Williams and Thicke of repeatedly changing their stories about how they created Blurred Lines and felt his clients deserved a piece of the millions the song has made.
An accounting statement during the trial, according to The Hollywood Reporter, revealed that there were $16,675,690 in profits for Blurred Lines.
According to testimony, $5,658,214 went to Thicke, $5,153,457 was given to Williams and $704,774 to T.I.
Record companies (Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak) took home the rest, with an executive at Universal Music testifying that overhead costs on the creation of Blurred Lines accounted for $6.9 million.
Add to that a second song, Gaye’s After the Dance, also being disputed, and Gaye family lawyer Richard Busch put damages at $40 million.
Howard King, lead attorney for Williams, Thicke and T.I., told jurors a verdict for the Gaye family would stifle artists and inhibit musicians trying to recreate an era or genre of music.
The two-week trial was entertaining, enlightening and colorful. Thicke sang, played the piano and even danced a little in his seat during his testimony. He also told the federal jury that he was drunk and high on drugs during interviews about the song. Although he is credited with co-writing the mega hit, Thicke said Williams wrote it on his own.
Williams’ testimony hinged on feelings. “Feel, but not infringement,” Williams said when asked whether he recognized similarities between the songs. “I must’ve been channeling that feeling, that late-’70s feeling.”
Blurred Lines was the biggest hit of 2013 and was nominated for a Grammy Award. T.I.’s rap track was added after it was recorded in mid-2012.
Contributing: The Associated Press