“Blurred Lines” Infringement Verdict Is In

The copyright infringement case brought by the estate of Marvin Gaye against the popular musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and “T.I”, as well as their respective record companies, was decided by jury verdict on March 10th. The jury awarded the Gaye estate $7.4 million in damages, to be paid by Thicke and Williams, with the jury deciding that “T.I.” and the various record companies were not liable.

Though substantial, the award still allowed substantial profits for all involved.  According to the LA Times, Thicke earned $5.6 million and Williams earned $5.2 million, while the primary record company involved in the 2013 smash hit brought in approximately $13-14 million in revenue (before an estimated $7 million in distribution and marketing costs).  These profits do not include earnings from touring, merchandizing, and other potential revenue streams.

Nonetheless, the jury ruling strips the infringing musicians of much of their earnings from a song that many observers believe does not directly “steal” lyrics, rhythms, or other components of the Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up”.  Rather this case was decided based on the feel of “Blurred Lines”, which jurors determined resembled Gaye’s original rendering too closely.

This case is [particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it is very rare for such specific financial information to be made public. While sales are often reported, public dissemination of information on profits and costs seldom occurs. Secondly, the judgment (assuming it stands up to appeal) has the potential to expose a wide spectrum of artists to lawsuits over “inspiration infringement”. Much has already been written in the days since the jury’s decision as to how much of an impact this will have on musicians and other artists who have been “inspired” by those who came before them.

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