Published : Monday, October 9, 2017 | 5:20 AM
Lawyers for singers Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke fought back last Friday in oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena bidding to reverse a jury’s 2015 verdict which led to the awarding of $5.3 million to the family of the late Motown icon Marvin Gaye on song theft claims.
The scene of the legal warfare is the Richard H. Chambers Courthouse on Grand Avenue, the iconic structure sitting on the lip of the Arroyo Seco and plainly visible by freeway goers entering Pasadena from the west.
Williams and Thicke, who created the hit song “Blurred Lines” at the center of the dispute, launched the appeal against the verdict that saw them ordered to pay $5.3 million and 50% of songwriting and publishing revenues to Gaye’s family after a jury ruled that the song copied Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”
Lawyers for Williams and Thicke filed their opening brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last August 24 arguing that “if left to stand, the Blurred Lines verdict would chill musical creativity and inhibit the process by which later artists draw inspiration from earlier artists to create new popular music”.
The two based their appeal on the assertion that the judge in the original case, John Kronstadt, misread the law by allowing comparison of the recordings of the two songs, rather than just the sheet music.
Williams and Thicke argued that “Got to Give It Up” was one of the last songs recorded before a change to copyright law to include sound recordings.
“What happened instead was a cascade of legal errors warranting this court’s reversal or vacatur for new trial,” the singers’ opening brief states.
The “Blurred Lines” creators are appealing a jury verdict that they infringed Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” by copying the feel, sound and instrumentation of the R&B hit, rather than its melody or lyrics. They said they should have won the case on summary judgment, with the court resolving it before the jury got it.
“‘Blurred Lines’ is not substantially similar to ‘Got To Give It Up’ as a matter of law,” the brief added.
The “Blurred Lines” creators are also arguing in their appeal that the trial court failed to remove from consideration elements of the songs that are not protectable under copyright law.
The two musicians continue to believe that the similarities between the two songs are not substantial enough for a copyright infringement claim, and that the decision oversteps the boundaries of musical rights.
Lawyers for the two singers also argue that since the music Gaye copyrighted was sheet music, and not the sound recording, the two songs should be compared only on the basis of what is expressed in the written form, devoid of any musical expressions that occurred in the recording.