200+ Artists Support "Blurred Lines" Legal Appeal - Is The Future Of Music At Stake?

This case could affect all musicians, the world over.

By Eric Shorey

"Blurred Lines" was released about three years ago but still continues to stir up controversy. The track, by Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell, dominated radios for months while angering feminists who noted the song's lyrical content basically advocated rape. The song remained popular for far too long despite the criticism, but it generated headlines anew when the family of Marvin Gaye sued the song's writers, essentially for idea theft. The musicians behind "Blurred Lines" tried to prove the lack of actual musical similarities between the songs in court, all the while noting the importance of older influences and genre conventions in the work. Thicke and co. ultimately lost that suit, but are working on an appeal. Now, that appeal is being supported by over 200 artists who fear for the feature of music if artists are constantly being punished for creating...homages?

In the age of sampling and near-ubiquitous copyright infringement, the debate around the track is certainly an important one. To what extent are artists legally allowed to be influenced by or pay tribute to other protected songs in their own work? This question was behind the original ruling, which came down hard against unoriginal material and ultimately punished the singers to the tune of $7.4 (later reduced to $5.3) million. The music industry was shocked by the decision, with the contemporary musicians' lawyer saying: "This affects the creativity of young musicians who hope to stand on the shoulders of other musicians."

A pretty diverse collection of artists have signed a brief in support of the appeal: R. Kelly, Earth Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey and Verdine White, composer Hans Zimmer, “American Idol” alum Katharine McPhee, members of Three 6 Mafia, The Go-Go’s and Linkin Park, Train’s Patrick Monahan and Fall out Boy’s Patrick Stump are just a few of the 212 names. The group created a legal brief which firmly condemns the action of the judges and jury from the previous trial, and discusses the philosophical and aesthetic ramifications of the legal decision:

“All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre,” reads the brief. “By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is."

“Quite clearly, the verdict in this case, if based upon the music at all, was based upon the jury’s perception that the overall ‘feel’ or ‘groove’ of the two works is similar, as songs of a particular genre often are. In essence, the Appellants have been found liable for the infringement of an idea, or a series of ideas, and not for the tangible expression of those ideas, which is antithetical to Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act.

“Such a result, if allowed to stand, is very dangerous to the music community, is certain to stifle future creativity, and ultimately does a disservice to past songwriters as well,” the brief states.

It's a shame that the song in question here is so plainly reprehensible because the underlying legal issues are certainly important to way music is created and proliferated, especially in the digital era.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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