What Does ‘Blurred Lines’ Decision Mean for Future of Music Business?

What Does ‘Blurred Lines’ Decision Mean for Future of Music Business?

Robin Thicke

Perhaps the lines won’t be so blurred in the future.

A federal jury in California on March 10 awarded the family of Marvin Gaye $7.3 million after deciding the 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” too closely resembled the late singer’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.” Robin Thicke and the song’s cowriter, Pharrell Williams, will pay the damages.

The decision, some say, could have sweeping ramifications in the music business. The lawsuit, filed in 2013, sparked debate about plagiarism, sampling and the way modern music is created.

In a joint statement, Thicke and Williams said they were “extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” according to The New York Times.

For the record, “Blurred Lines” spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and raked in $16.5 million in profits ($5 million apiece for Thicke and Williams), according to Variety.

The Times noted that it’s rare for accusations of plagiarism to reach a federal jury, and the decision could deter musicians from harkening back to previous eras in their songs.

“It will cause people who want to want to evoke the past to perhaps refrain from doing so,” Lawrence Iser, an intellectual property attorney, told the Times. “Rather than helping to progress the arts, it is a step backward.”

See a side-by-side comparison on YouTube.

For decades artists in nearly every genre have been accused, at the very least, of borrowing from others who came before. A Time magazine article lays out a few examples and notes that it’s so common because “there are only so many ways to truly innovate.” It has long been an issue in hip-hop, where sampling old tracks and beats is the norm.

And as recently as January, Tom Petty and Sam Smith reached a settlement regarding similarities between “I Won’t Back Down” and “Stay with Me.”

While there are several other examples of musicians allegedly copying other artists, few reach the federal court system.

The “Blurred Lines” decision could mean that artists will face new restrictions on their music and may see record labels become leery of releasing tracks that sound like, or pay homage to, previous work, according to a post on the Times Union.

According to The Atlantic, industry experts have for the most part “reacted with horror” to the pronouncement, which “should only heighten fears of anyone who worries that the bar has now been lowered for what kind of music borrowing in legally actionable.”

What exactly the jury’s conclusion means for the music business will be sorted out in the coming months and years. But most of the recent posts on the matter seem to agree: things will likely change.

What do you think of the jury’s decision? Or the idea of paying homage vs stealing? Let us know in the comments section.

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