LOS ANGELES (CN) — Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams will not have to pay Marvin Gaye’s heirs $3.5 million in attorney fees following a trial in which the jury found that the recording artists infringed on Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
Frankie Christian Gaye, Nona Gaye and Marvin Gaye III successfully convinced a jury during a seven-day trial in March 2015 that “Blurred Lines,” sung Thicke and produced by Pharrell, copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 Motown hit. The jury awarded the family $7.4 million.
U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt later cut the award down to $5.3 million in damages plus 50 percent of the song’s future royalties.
On Tuesday, he denied the Gaye family’s request to recoup $3.5 million in attorney fees.
The fact that the Gayes prevailed on their “Got to Give It Up” infringement claim and were awarded substantial damages weighs in favor of awarding attorney fees. However, the most important factor in determining whether to award fees is whether a successful claim furthers the purposes of the federal Copyright Act, Kronstadt said.
The Gaye family argued that this case helped promote the creation of original expression, encouraged others to protect their copyrights, and set the boundaries for copyright infringement.
Pharrell and Thicke, on the other hand, argued that their defenses in the case contributed to setting the boundaries for copyright just as much, if not more than, the Gayes’ claims.
Kronstadt agreed with the recording artists.
Because “decisions in this matter addressed unique issues, the litigation could reasonably be seen as contributing to at least an informed discussion on the demarcation of copyright law. And, the defenses presented by the Thicke parties were of equal significance with the claims asserted by the Gaye parties in leading to this result,” the judge said.
Furthermore, the overall defense brought by Thicke and Pharrell was not frivolous, and the Gayes did not provide enough evidence to show that the recording artists should have known from the outset that their chances of success in this case were slim to none, Kronstadt said.
Granting $3.5 million in attorney fees “against parties whose defenses were objectively reasonable and potentially meritorious could reasonably be seen as causing a chilling effect on those against whom future infringement actions are brought,” Kronstadt said.
Finally, the Gayes’ argument that a fee award is required because they have less financial means than the Thicke and Pharrell “has not been supported by any admissible evidence,” the judge said.
In light of all of these factors, “the Gaye parties have not shown that an award of attorney’s fees is reasonable. Beyond the success on the merits, little else supports their position. This case presented novel issues. How they would be determined was not, even in hindsight, something that was clear,” Kronstadt said.
The amount the Gaye family should be reimbursed for costs relating to the case must be recalculated, the judge said.
The Gayes are only entitled to costs associated with their claim based on “Blurred Lines,” and not on the Gayes’ unsuccessful claim that Thicke’s song “Love After War” infringed the copyright for Gaye’s song “After the Dance,” Kronstadt said.
Although both sides provided different suggestions on how to separate the costs for the two claims, Kronstadt said that an appropriate apportionment for costs is 65 percent for “Blurred Lines” and 35 percent for “Love After War.”
The Gaye family must file an amended request for costs with all the appropriate data by April 21.
Pharrell’s attorney Howard King declined to comment further.
Attorneys for the other parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent on Thursday.
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