Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have made no secret of the fact that their massive summer hit “Blurred Lines” is influenced by the classic Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give it Up.”
Now they are suing to protect themselves from copyright claims by Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music Inc., which owns some Funkadelic compositions.
In a complaint filed Thursday in a federal court in Los Angeles, representatives for Williams, Thicke and Clifford Harris Jr. (the rapper commonly known as T.I.) asked the court to declare that “Blurred Lines” does not infringe on copyrights for “Got to Give It Up” or the Funkadelic song “Sexy Ways.”
According to the complaint, representatives for Gaye's family and Bridgeport have threatened to sue Thicke and Williams over the song, which they say is similar to “Got to Give It Up” and “Sexy Ways.”
“The basis of the Gaye defendants' claims is that ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got To Give It Up’ ‘feel’ or ‘sound’ the same,” the complaint reads. “In reality, the Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work, and Bridgeport is claiming the same work.”
The complaint notes that the men behind “Blurred Lines,” which has received some 140 million views on YouTube, “have the utmost respect for and of Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic and their musical legacies.”
In fact, in a GQ interview in May, Thicke said the song was inspired by “Got to Give It Up’s” funky beat.
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“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye's ‘Got to Give It Up,’" Thicke said, according to GQ. “I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it."
However, a copyright claim could be very difficult for the Gayes and Bridgeport to prove if they had decided to sue, according to Larry Iser, a managing partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP, who has practiced music law for 30 years.
“Genre and feel is not protected by copyright,” he said. “Unless they can prove substantial similarity in lyric or melody, they’re going to be out of luck.”
Bridgeport, a catalog company based in Southfield, Mich., is known for suing people for sampling sound recordings without permission. In a famous case, Bridgeport Music Inc. v. Dimension Films in 2005, the company sued over N.W.A.’s sampling of a brief guitar part from Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Bridgeport is run by former record producer Armen Boladian.
However, the “Blurred Lines” case, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, is not about sampling of sound recordings, but about the lyrics and melody, also known as the “composition.”
For his part, Funkadelic leader George Clinton has tweeted his support for Thicke and Williams.
Feel free to judge for yourself after listening to the songs below.
Follow on Twitter: @rfaughnder