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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Millions at Stake as ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Case Goes to the Jury

LOS ANGELES (CN) - In closing arguments Thursday in the "Blurred Lines" copyright case, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams's attorney warned a federal jury of serious consequences to the music industry if it delivers a verdict in favor of Marvin Gaye's family.

"We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants," the defendants' attorney Howard King said. "I believe that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams are proud to stand on the shoulders of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie."

King told the federal jury of five women and three men that siding against his clients would impair the ability of young musicians to freely create music that draws upon those who influenced them.

"Let my clients go forth and continue to make their magic," King said.

The Gayes' attorney Richard Busch said a verdict in favor of his clients would be less catastrophic than King was making out.

"The world is not going to end if you vote in favor the Gayes. Believe me," Busch said.

Busch asked the jury to award up to $25 million in damages. That would include $8 million for publishing revenue and a $10 million cut of the artists' and record company profits. Seven million in overhead costs should be added if the alleged infringement is willful, Busch said.

U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt's small courtroom on the 7th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Courthouse received a sprinkle of stardust during the seven-day trial.

Proceedings opened with a bang last week, when Thicke sang and played piano at the witness stand, running through a short medley of tunes that included classics by U2, The Beatles, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson.

Williams took the stand on Wednesday to deny claims that the song he produced for Thicke lifted elements from Gaye's 1977 single.

In 2013, Robin Thicke and his co-creators sued the late Marvin Gaye's family in Federal Court, seeking a declaration that "Blurred Lines" did not violate copyright law. They said their tune merely evoked an era and the feel of Marvin Gaye's music.

The artists filed preemptively after the Gaye family contended that they had used "Got to Give It Up" without permission. Frankie Christian Gaye, Nona Marvisa Gaye and Marvin Gaye III later filed counterclaims against the stars.

The buzz when Pharrell and Thicke have been present in the courtroom has been palpable.

But the glamour factor quickly wore off, as musicologists and experts spent hour upon hour pointing to similarities between the two songs - or a lack thereof - and breaking down potential profits and losses.

After the Thicke parties rested their case Thursday, Busch urged the jury to find that the R&B singer and producer had willfully copied elements of "Got to Give It Up."

"This is not about an era or a feeling. This is about taking a specific thing and copying it," Busch said.

Pharrell and Thicke acknowledged the influence of "Got to Give It Up" in media interviews after the "Blurred Lines" release.

But when he took the witness stand on Wednesday, Pharrell said his comments were made after the fact, and that Gaye was not on his mind when he created "Blurred Lines" at a Burbank studio, in the summer of 2012.

Busch said that Pharrell and Thicke had lied during depositions and during the trial.

"Keep in mind that at all times these people are performers," Busch said, adding that they had changed their story "time and time again."

"When you lie, there are consequences," Busch told the jury.

King agreed that there would be consequences, but of a kind that could send tremors through the music industry.

"This is more important than money. This affects the creativity of young musicians," the attorney said.

King said that his clients were only channeling the music that they loved - the soul music of the 1970s.

"No one can claim they own the style or genre of Marvin Gaye," King said. "Isn't that what musicians do every day? Evoke an era?"

Perhaps the strongest element of King's closing argument was when he stopped talking and let the music speak for itself, playing a re-recorded version of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," followed by "Blurred Lines."

"Now, if my clients were running this case, I would say 'thank you' and sit down," King quipped.

King spoke with calm confidence. Busch seemed a bit uncomfortable at times. Judge Kronstadt had to tell him more than once to slow down so the court reporter could transcribe his closing statements.

For a period during King's closing, Busch sat hunched over his desk and slumped in his chair, occasionally shaking his head as his opponent spoke.

As the court emptied and the jury left to deliberate, a tearful Nona Gaye and Busch embraced for a full five seconds - hinting at the grueling nature of the trial, and the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Jury deliberations will continue Friday morning.

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