Songwriter and singer Pharrell Williams said the continued legal action against him and singer Robin Thicke by the family of Motown legend Marvin Gaye will inhibit future creative work. Williams’ reaction came after the Gaye family filed an injunction Tuesday to stop any further sales of the hit Blurred Lines, which Williams wrote and Thicke performed.
Williams said inspiration comes from many sources and, therefore, there are going to be similarities between today’s work and those of yesteryear. He said that could relate not only to music, but to fashion or any other form of creative endeavor. Legal cases like the Marvin Gaye lawsuit will only blur the lines of creativity, according to Williams. Others, like music producer Jermaine Dupri who help build the careers of Mariah Carey and Usher, said the lawsuit puts songwriters in a tough spot because many grew up admiring the greats like Marvin Gaye. Dupri said hip-hop particularly is inspired by music of the past and usually contains an element from a previous song.
The Gaye’s family attorney, Richard S. Busch, stated the injunction is a protocol in order to give time for those involved to discuss further earnings from the song Blurred Lines. A Los Angeles jury ruled earlier this month that the Williams-Thicke song violates copyright of the 1997 Marvin Gaye song “Got To Give It Up.” Thicke and Williams are expected to pay $7.4 million in earnings to the Gaye family in accordance with the verdict. Busch said that payout only covers what the 2013 hit song has earned so far and does not legally cover future earnings. He said the injunction would be withdrawn once there is a settlement about ongoing earning royalties.
The Gaye family said songwriters in today’s digital age must be more diligent to make sure that they are not copying someone else’s work and that no one is copying theirs as well. They also said the purpose is to ensure Marvin Gaye, and other artists like him, continue to receive credit for their work as time goes on.
The digital age and constant Internet music sharing poses problems for other artists as well. Singer-songwriter Tom Petty and British sensation Sam Smith settled a copyright dispute over allegations that Smith’s song Stay With Me copied Petty’s 1989 song I Won’t Back Down. Smith’s representatives insist the similarities are coincidental, but Petty fans aren’t convinced and posted their grievances after Smith’s song won three Grammies.
Copyright legalities could even affect amateurs. A copyright lawsuit was filed in 2013 in New York against Fullscreen, a multi-channel network that funnels videos to You Tube, by a group of music publishers. Although most of the videos are amateurs singing cover songs, the music publishers filing the legal action said the videos were not made with permission and the original artists were not receiving their due royalties.
Nashville artists also took notice of unintentional similarities in country music when a video using an application to play six popular country songs at the same time made its rounds on the Internet. The video, uploaded last November by aspiring songwriter Greg Todd, got attention in January after it poked fun at the similarities in both music and themes of today’s popular country music.
It is uncertain how much the family of Marvin Gaye will be asking in settlement negotiations for future royalties on the Williams-Thicke Blurred Lines song. If a judge approves the injunction, Blurred Lines will fade from distribution until an agreement is reached, but artists like Williams may continue to voice concerns over creativity license.
By Melody Dareing
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