LOS ANGELES (CN) – After several false starts, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke finally appeared in court Tuesday for a trial to determine whether their hit “Blurred Lines” infringes the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”
The stakes of the estimated eight-day trial may be high, but Thicke appeared unfazed as the court convened in the morning to select a jury to decide the high-profile copyright case.
The R&B singer, dressed in a gray suit, frequently made eye contact with prospective jurors and beamed at the assembled media and public.
Pharrell appeared subdued. Wearing blue jeans and a jacket over a white shirt, he was straight-faced throughout proceedings.
Originally scheduled to start Feb. 10, the trial was postponed to Feb. 17, then U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt delayed it again to hear a criminal trial.
Tuesday morning, prospective jurors filed into the courtroom as proceedings got under way.
Addressing the courtroom, Thicke and Pharrell’s attorney Howard E. King disputed the claim of Gaye’s children that his clients had copied “Got to Give it Up.”
Also at issue is another 2011 track Thicke co-wrote with his ex-wife Paula Patton, “Love After War.”
“Obviously, we disagree and deny those assertions,” King said during a brief statement.
After Thicke scored big with the mega-hit “Blurred Lines” in 2013, he sued Marvin Gaye’s family in August that year, asking a judge to rule that he did not copy “Got to Give it Up.”
Thicke’s collaborators on “Blurred Lines,” Williams and rapper T.I., were also parties to the lawsuit alleging “no similarities” between the two songs “other than commonplace musical elements.”
“Blurred Lines” merely evoked an “era,” the pop stars said.
In a small courtroom on the 7th floor of the downtown federal courthouse, the attorneys kicked off a trial that will decide whether the Gaye family gets a stake in Thicke’s hit – one of the best-selling singles of all time.
The Gayes’ lead attorney Richard S. Busch said the evidence would show that Thicke’s tracks are unauthorized rip-offs of Marvin Gaye’s songs.
“We are going to show very clearly that they copied ‘Got to Give it Up’ and ‘After the Dance,'” Busch said, with Gaye’s adult children Frankie Christian Gaye and Nona Marvisa Gaye sitting nearby. Marvin Gaye III was also present, with extended family.
Thicke appeared to make no bones about where the inspiration for “Blurred Lines” had come from before the litigation started.
In a May 2013 interview with GQ magazine, Thicke said that “Got to Give it Up” was on his mind when he recorded the hit.
“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up,'” Thicke said in the interview. “I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.'”
The Gaye family’s lawyer Richard S. Busch seized on Thicke and Pharrell’s public statements during opening arguments.
Pharrell let a slight smile play on his lips as Busch contrasted the songwriter’s video deposition with seemingly contradictory comments he made during television interviews.
Thicke kept his eyes locked on Busch for almost all of the attorney’s opening statement.
Busch said of the stars: “They will get up on the witness stand and smile and will be charming,” but said that they would only be “performing” for the jury.
Busch highlighted testimony in which Thicke revised his story of how the song was conceived. In a deposition, Thicke said he had overplayed his part in the creation of the song and was drunk and on Vicodin when it was recorded.
The attorney said the evidence would show otherwise.
“None of the after-the-fact excuses make any sense,” Bush told the jury. “In their first story in this case, they did not deny [the similarities] at all. It was only later that they changed their story.”
Including touring revenue, Busch estimated that profits from “Blurred Lines” are about $40 million.
“Despite making a fortune and using Marvin Gaye to make that money … the Gaye family did not receive any money,” the attorney said.
During opening statements, King put Thicke’s deposition about his drug-addled state front and center.
“I am not drunk, on cocaine or Vicodin. But that’s really not the issue,” the attorney said. “What matters is not how the music was made. What matters is the music that was made.”
In coming days, that’s what the jurors will have to contemplate – but without hearing Gaye’s original recording.
In a contentious ruling, Kronstadt said he will not allow the jury to hear the “Got to Give it Up” original recording because, he said, it contained unprotected elements under copyright law. Instead, the jury will largely rely on renderings of the song based on Gaye’s original sheet music.
Pharrell, Thicke and T.I. will all take the stand during the trial.
Music copyright cases are difficult because Western, tonal music is based upon a common “language.” Chord progressions, for example, cannot be copyrighted, nor can simple, identifiable melodic elements.
The chord progression of the George Gershwin tune “I Got Rhythm,” for example, has been used for hundreds of songs. And the first four notes of the tune now best known as “How Dry I Am,” occurs in dozens of Classical compositions.
- For the Record, Historian Asks Court|for a Death Certificate for Billy the Kid
- Immigration Fight Has DHS|on the Verge of a Shutdown