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  • Writer's pictureEsther Bae

What’s Wrong With the ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Ruling

For music industry people, the most notable copyright issue in the first half of 2015 would be the ‘Blurred Lines’ copyright case. Caramanica talks about the controversy over the verdict. The case started with Marvin Gaye’s family insisting that the 2013 pop hit ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams improperly copied Gaye’s song ‘Got to Give It Up.’ The decision of the court was 7.3 million dollars to Gaye’s family. Considering the amount of money, this case has certainly become the talk of the town. Some people argue that the verdict will negatively impact artists doing creative jobs, while others agree with the copyright infringement.

The author of the article takes a stand against the verdict, mainly on account of the antiquity of current copyright law. In his words, the decision of the court was “far more damning.” Caramanica first points out the contemporary practices to create songs that are different from old times when music was all written on sheet music and given to players. Most popular songs today are made with a composite of digital programs and samplers. And the problem in this case is that the judge only dealt with the sheet music, not the master recording. Sheet music does not articulate the tone or the feel that music has, which plays a major role in most songs today. Therefore, reflecting modern songwriting techniques, the judgment based on the sheet music represents out-of-date legislation as well as no respect for contemporary music, the author claims.

The author’s reasoning seems to be moderately valid in the current context. It is true that copyright laws were made when music was written as musical notes and recorded with real players. The current copyright laws do seem to be somewhat superficial to measure the improper copying of someone’s work in modern society. If Thicke and Williams can be wrongly accused due to the outmoded law, then so can other artists who need to be protected. Caramanica brings an example of the song ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX, which is controversially a replica of a DJ Mustard production. DJ Mustard’s sound has its own vibe and texture that cannot be transcribed in notes. Judgments based on sheet music would be no use to artists like DJ Mustard.

We live in a contemporary period where music cannot all be notated on paper. It is certainly getting harder to draw a line for what’s considered to be copyright infringement. Yet the law still should be stated in a certain way to protect artists, whether that is to determine a ‘feel’ or vibe. However, it should be noted that it is also artists’ responsibility to be aware of what the law allows and restricts.

(As of July 14, 2015, the judge trimmed the amount to 5.3 million dollars, but half of all future royalties from ‘Blurred Lines’ will be given to Marvin Gaye’s family.)


Jon Caramanica, What’s Wrong With the ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Ruling, The New York Times,, March 11, 2015.

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