“Blurred Lines” in Copyright Verdict?

As many of you may already be aware, a landmark decision was made this past Tuesday when artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams lost a lawsuit to the estate of Marvin Gaye regarding copyright infringement. According to the verdict of the case, the hit song “Blurred Lines” was too similar to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up”. Thicke and Williams have been told to pay $7.3 million dollars in damages to Gaye’s estate. Right now, their lawyers have gone on the record to say that they are appealing this decision. Their appeal will be predominately based on the fact that jurors were instructed by the judge to only compare the sheet music between the two songs, a comparison that Thicke and William’s legal team believes does not encompass the true feel of both songs.

Here’s a mashup of the two songs in case you need some reference for comparison:

Now, this verdict has caused a number of concerns within the music community for several reasons. First, very few cases like this ever go to trial. In general, copyright suits in music are settled way before they make it to the courtroom. Secondly, there has been some controversy over the distinction between being influenced by a song, and infringing on copyright. While there are definitely similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give it Up”, there are also distinct differences, and these are not the two most similar songs out there. The Strokes flat out admitted that they ripped off Tom Petty’s “American Girl” for “Last Nite”, and who doesn’t know about “Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure”?

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell at this moment whether the verdict is going to be an anomaly or if this is the beginning of a new age of copyright protection in music. If this is going to set a new precedent, however, I am curious to see what kind of impact it would have on the production of music. As was aptly demonstrated by musical comics Axis of Awesome in their Four Chords Song, there is a lot of overlap between our most beloved songs.
WARNING: Explicit language contained in this video

I believe that the takeaway here is that in music, as in a lot of art, there is a fine line between inspiration and appropriation. How you determine that line, however, is anyone’s guess.