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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Eye-Popping Numbers Revealed|in ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Trial

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Robin Thicke surprised a jury last week by running through a medley of tunes in the " Blurred Lines " copyright infringement trial. With the star absent Tuesday, there was little to dazzle the jury, though both sides presented some eye-popping numbers.

Not musical numbers. As the trial entered its fifth day there was more than music theory to pore over.

U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt broke down how much Thicke and his "Blurred Lines" collaborators Pharrell Williams and T.I. made from their 2013 hit song.

Of the $16.6 million in "Blurred Lines" profits, Thicke earned $5.6 million in artist and publishing royalties, Pharrell $5.1 million in producer and publishing royalties, and T.I. got $704,000. The rest went to the record companies behind the platinum single: Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak.

That was according to a stipulation of facts of profits that Kronstadt read to the jury.

Thicke, 37, Pharrell, 41, and T.I. (Clifford Harris), 34 are defending copyright-infringement claims from Frankie Christian Gaye, Nona Marvisa Gaye and Marvin Gaye III.

The family of Motown legend Marvin Gaye wants a cut of the profits from "Blurred Lines," which they call a rip-off of the Motown soul singer's 1977 track, "Got to Give it Up."

The Gayes' attorney Richard S. Busch has said during trial that, including money from touring, profits from "Blurred Lines" are close to $40 million.

Thicke initially sought a declaration that he did not breach the copyright of Gaye's "Got To Give It Up." The Gayes countersued.

The Gayes also claim that Thicke's "Love After War" violates copyright on Marvin Gaye's 1976 single, " After the Dance ."

Last week, the Gayes' expert musicologists Judith Finell and Ingrid Monson told the court there is are substantial similarities between the two songs.

On Tuesday, Thicke's expert musicologist Sandra Wilbur dissected "Blurred Lines" and "Got to Give it Up."

Like Thicke, Wilbur used an electronic piano to illustrate her points.

Wilbur said the two songs are "not meaningfully similar," noting the differences in structure, harmony and melody.

"In fact, they are really different songs," Wilbur told Thicke's attorney Seth Miller. She said that the format of "Blurred Lines" followed a popular verse-chorus structure.

"It's a really common format for a song," Wilbur said.

That was in stark contrast to Gaye's "Got to Give it Up," she told the jury.

"It's an unusual structure because it has no chorus but a hook," she said of Gaye's composition.

A hook is generally understood as a short musical phrase, which may be repeated.

In a move troubling to the Gaye family, Judge Kronstadt ruled in the run-up to the trial that the jury would not hear Gaye's original recording.

Kronstadt said that Gaye's recording contained unprotected elements under copyright law. So jurors have listened only to a stripped-down and re-recorded version of song, based on Gaye's copyrighted sheet music.

The copyright question of sheet music versus recorded music therefore has clouded the issue. Thicke's attorney Miller tried to score points against Wilbur on the witness stand, using the sheet music to try to sway the case in his celebrity clients' favor.

One argument Pharrell and Thicke made in the lawsuit against the Gayes was that they were only replicating the "feel" of "Got to Give it Up" and evoking an era.

Alluding to that line of reasoning, Miller asked Wilbur if would be possible for a band to take Gaye's sheet music and perform a rendition of "Got to Give it Up" as a reggae, country or rock song.

Wilbur said yes.

The Gaye family rested its case Tuesday morning after testimony from financial expert Nancie Stern and the Gayes' accountant Gary Cohen. The experts estimated the damages the family sustained because of the alleged infringement.

Music copyright is a fiendishly complicated issue.

Generally, neither the jury, the judge, the attorneys, and in some cases, even the litigants understand the musical issues involved. Paul McCartney, for instance, cannot read or write music.

Courts have ruled that neither chord progressions nor melodic fragments can be copyrighted, though McCartney's fellow Beatle George Harrison lost a famous copyright case that claimed his song "My Sweet Lord" was a knockoff of the song "He's So Fine."

Pharrell and T.I. are due to take the stand Wednesday.

The trial is expected to wrap up Thursday after closing arguments.

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