Blurred Legal Lines?

Robin Thicke

Life can take some strange turns at times. One day things can just move along smoothly, and the next day it feels like our world is ending. The ever changing world can bring on adversity quickly and continue without relent for long periods of time, making our bad time seem like the end of everything. No matter how terrible our misfortune may seem, the sun will always rise the next day…..we hope. Just imagine if you were living the life of singer/songwriter Robin Thicke.

With a career that began almost twenty years ago, Thicke climbed the ladder of success quite easily toward what earlier this year seemed to be the pinnacle of his rise. The release of the title track of his sixth studio album Blurred Lines came about on March 26, 2013 with guest vocals by rapper T.I. and singer/producer Pharrell Williams. The song reached number one on both the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart and Billboard Hot 100. It would be the first number one song of Robin Thicke’s solo career. The song has been a worldwide hit, topping the charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom, as well as the top ten in Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, France, Iceland, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. As of July 17, 2013, it was the second best-selling single of 2013 in the UK; the Official Charts Company confirmed that it had sold one million copies, behind Daft Punk’s single “Get Lucky”, which also features Pharrell Williams. Successful indeed, though controversy came almost as quickly as the song rose in popularity, initially for the music video.

The music video features Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell casually standing in front of light-pink backdrop as they flirt with models (Emily Ratajkowski, Elle Evans and Jessi M’Bengue) that pose and dance. At various points, the hashtag “#THICKE” flashes. In the unrated version of the video, the models wear nothing but a skin-colored G-string. In the edited version, they are scantily clad and the hashtag “#BLURREDLINES” is seen at various points. According to the Huffington Post, after being on the site for just under one week, the unrated version of the video was removed from YouTube on March 30, 2013, citing violations of the site’s terms of service that restricts the uploading of videos containing nudity, particularly if used in a sexual context. However it was later restored on July 12, 2013. The unrated video remains available on Vevo, while the edited version is available on both Vevo and YouTube. The unrated version of “Blurred Lines” generated more than 1 million views in the days following its release on Vevo.  Both the video and song have received a great deal of criticism because of the sexual content. Tricia Romano of The Daily Beast suggested that the song and the music video trivialize sexual consent. She charges that many female fans were uncomfortable with both the song and the video. Her article quoted feminists who interpreted the song’s message as being promotion of rape culture because the title “Blurred Lines” and portions of the lyrics like “I know you want it” encourage the idea “no doesn’t always mean no” and that some women who are raped are asking for it. Criticism was also leveled at the song’s video, which has been labeled “eye-poppingly misogynist” Asked about the racy content of the video, Thicke responded: “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.”

Greater trouble was about to bubble forth later in the year. Last month, Robin Thicke preemptively sued the family of Marvin Gaye and Bridgeport Music regarding copyright infringement allegations the two companies made relating to “Blurred Lines”; Marvin Gaye’s family accused the song’s authors of copying the “feel” and “sound” of “Got to Give It Up” (the song which Thicke personally claimed was an influence on “Blurred Lines”), while Bridgeport claimed that the song illegally sampled Funkadelic’s song “Sexy Ways”. In the lawsuit, Gaye’s family was accused of making an invalid copyright claim since only expressions, not individual ideas can be protected.

As I recently listened to the radio show Tom Joyner Morning Show, the news of the lawsuit was reported and the jokes flew fast and furiously about Thicke. However, the bottom line is everyone on the show thought Robin Thicke should pay Marvin Gaye’s family, without mentioning the Bridgeport allegations. Tom Joyner himself made reference to the Beyonce hit Crazy in Love in which the payoff was ten million dollars for the use of the sample from the 1970 Chi-Lites song “Are You My Woman”. I feel this situation is very different, and the legal ramifications are huge. At question is the use of a similar beat or style – not a sample. In our musical day and age, older material is sampled all the time and compensation is given for the use of such samples. Thicke and Pharrell Williams admitted they wanted to create a song with a similar feel to “Got toGive It Up”, but they did not sample the song.

Honestly, in most popular music nothing is really new. Most ideas have been tried and tested in the past even without being sampled. Blurring legal lines even more was the PR move of Thicke offering the Gaye family a six-figure settlement which was quickly rejected. Blurred Lines has already made multi-millions of dollars and will make much, much more. If this song was not a hit would there be legal wrangling?  Well, it is a hit and I think we haven’t heard the last of this development. Stay tuned!

6 thoughts on “Blurred Legal Lines?

  1. I'm with Jason! That song has stolen a lot of riffs from "Give it up" and I've even detected some licks from the Stones' "Emotional Rescue." I'd like to know what's the diff between stealing, sampling and being inspired. By the same token, I doubt "Blurred Lines" will stand the test of time as well as anything by Marvin Gaye.

  2. I'm with Jason! That song has stolen a lot of riffs from "Give it up" and I've even detected some licks from the Stones' "Emotional Rescue." I'd like to know what's the diff between stealing, sampling and being inspired. By the same token, I doubt "Blurred Lines" will stand the test of time as well as anything by Marvin Gaye.

  3. Seriously? Gaye's family accusing the song's authors of copying the "feel" and "sound" ? What now we cannot even look or sound like someone, in the case you describe here, that we admire? What is up in this industry? It's sad to think that people are so fearful of, well of what? Certainly the creativity is likely credited to people who know that singer or writer anyway?

    Over from LinkedIn group BHB

    PS – not my kind of music but a good story will lure me in.

  4. Love the song, but like Linda says…there really isn't anything new under the sun. This often happens in what I do as well…writing fiction. What continues to amaze me me is that in this country anyone can sue anyone for anything under the sun, and not suffer any consequence for the damage caused. Because that would involve another lawsuit!

  5. Well, Solomon did say "there is nothing new under the sun." I rarely hear a popular song these days that doesn't remind me of another. But good grief, it never ceases to amaze me how people can get totally irrational when money is involved. Should be interesting to see how much they finally agree on.

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