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'Blurred Lines’ case re-hearing denied, Gaye family says 'win for music industry'

FOX 17 News

A landmark music copyright case won by a Nashville-based attorney officially came to an end between Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke and the family of Marvin Gaye.

The court upheld that Williams and Thicke’s chart-topping hit, “Blurred Lines,” infringed Gaye’s 1970’s song “Got To Give It Up” in March, and last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request for a re-hearing.

Nashville Music Attorney, Richard Busch represented the Gaye family, which entered into a suit against Thicke and Williams in 2013. They won the case in 2015, followed by Thicke and Williams’ appeal process.

“Maybe they tried to make some changes to ‘Got To Give It Up,’ but they copied too much, and we were able to show this constellation of elements that were used that is unique, and that you just don’t find in a typical case,” Busch said.

Though Busch said this is a win for the music industry, the defense argued that the decision stifles creativity and overextends the boundaries of copyright law,

“I see it as promoting creativity, because it’s lazy to copy someone else’s work, and if you know that you can’t do that, and you’re going to be called to task for doing so, you’re going to create original work,” Busch said.

Busch said it is very rare for a music copyright infringement case to make it to trial.

“Even though you might hear a song that sounds something like another song, the party was probably smart enough to make enough changes to it that it does not state a case for copyright infringement, even though you might think it sounds somewhat similar,” Busch said.

Steve Bogard with the Nashville Songwriters Association said creating a unique song is still an attainable goal.

"Everything is derivative, but it's a matter of degree. There are 12 notes, and 60,000 words in the English language. so I think if you're trying to be original, that seems to be an easy thing to do,” Bogard said.

A chart-topping songwriter himself, Bogard said this specific case wasn’t common, and was based off of the feel of the song, rather than specific elements.

Still, he said there are ways musicians can avoid this situation.

"Keep impeccable records, you can put everything down on a computer, you can use a program called Master Writer that does a time stamp. NSAI even has a copyright infringement insurance program,” Bogard said.

Busch said the defense could reach out to the Supreme Court for a review of the case, but that is unlikely.

Meanwhile, he said the Gaye family received $5.3 million in damages, including a 50% cut of all publishing royalties generated from “Blurred Lines” for the rest of time.

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