Musicians Back Pharrell in Copyright Appeal

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – On the face of it, you wouldn’t think Linkin Park, Hall & Oates and Poison have too much in common. But on Tuesday, members of the bands signed their names to a list of 212 songwriters, composers, musicians and producers who support overturning the verdict in the “Blurred Lines” copyright infringement case.
     Marvin Gaye’s children Frankie Christian Gaye, Nona Gaye and Marvin Gaye III last year persuaded a jury in a seven-day trial to find that “Blurred Lines,” performed by Robin Thicke and produced by Pharrell, copied their father’s 1977 Motown hit “Got to Give It Up.”
     A jury awarded the family $7.4 million, which U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt reduced to $5.3 million.
     Thicke and Pharrell appealed to the Ninth Circuit. In an amici curiae brief filed Tuesday, scores of musicians said the ruling sets a worrisome precedent. Members of Earth Wind & Fire, Tool, composer Hans Zimmer, singers Belinda Carlisle, R. Kelly and Jennifer Hudson, DJ-producer Danger Mouse and drummer Rikki Rockett of glam rockers Poison are among those who signed on.
     “The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works. All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre,” the brief to the Ninth Circuit states. “By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process.”
     The “Blurred Lines” ruling sent shockwaves through the music industry, though the long-term impact of the ruling is still unclear. Bloomberg news reported that the verdict prompted R&B songwriters to change how they attribute song credits, and has clouded the definition of copyright infringement.
     “The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is,” the amici curiae state.
     The musicians, songwriters and producers say the ruling is unique because “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” do not share common elements of melody, chords, song structure or lyrics — the jury decided only that the songs have the same “feel” or “groove.”
     They say Thicke and Pharrell were punished for the infringement of ideas, which are not copyrightable, rather than a “tangible expression of those ideas.”
     “Such a result, if allowed to stand, is very dangerous to the music community, is certain to stifle future creativity, and ultimately does a disservice to past songwriters as well,” the brief states.
     In their brief to the Ninth Circuit last week, Pharrell and Thicke argued that a “cascade of legal errors” allowed the case to go to trial and the Gaye family to win.
     Judge Kronstadt ruled before trial that the Gayes could make their case based on the “Got to Give it Up” sheet music deposited at the copyright office — not on the original sound recording.
     But Pharrell and Thicke say the court allowed the family’s experts to make comparisons based on the recording.
     “At trial, the district court made things worse. While correctly excluding the ‘Got To Give It Up’ sound recording itself, the court erroneously allowed the Gayes’ experts to testify about the sound recording anyway, including by playing their own musical excerpts based on the sound recording,” the appeal brief states, adding that Kronstadt did not instruct the jury to disregard portions of the Gaye song that were not protected.
     Richard Busch, attorney for Nona and Frankie Gaye, with King & Ballow, did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email Tuesday.
     Led Zeppelin this year defeated a copyright infringement case billed as a “Blurred Lines” sequel, when they persuaded a Los Angeles jury that the band had not ripped off a little-known progressive rock song called “Taurus” in the Zeppelin tune, “Stairway to Heaven.”
     (Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly identified Richard Busch as attorney for “the Gaye family,” rather than for Nona and Frankie Gaye. Paul N. Phillips, of West Hollywood, was trial counsel for Marvin Gaye III. This has been corrected in the story above.)

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