Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Blurred Lines" v. "Gaye": copyright case in music world could be important for composers, even ordinary "mixage" content on web

The New York Times, in a story by Ben Sisario, is reporting on litigation against Robin Thicke and other parties by the family of Marvin Gaye, claiming copyright infringement for using “musical elements” of the 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up”, without permission, in his hit “Blurred Lines”, story link here. There is a lot of complexity about the way this came to trial, and as to the authorship of the music.  But the underlying problem seems to be whether “atmospheric and textural” elements can be adopted from one song to another.
The concept might not mean as much in classical music, but could be significant in computer music where artificial percussive elements are part of the style (maybe extending the idea of “Whiplash”).
But in some sense, all composing involves copying.
It’s common to hear morsels of classical music in movies without full attribution, sometimes from relatively obscure works.
There is still music from “Blurred Lines” on YouTube, like here.  It would be hard to judge whether there is infringement; to my ear, there is a difference.
But this case could obviously become important in the music world.
There is a distantly related story on Vox about copyrights for application programming interfaces, very important in the smart device (and mobile) world right now, by Timothy B. Lee, here.  Lee reports the argument that copyright doesn’t protect functional characteristics.  Vox provides a valuable card stack explaining the difference between copyright and patents.  

Update: March 10, 2015

"Blurred Lines" composers Robert Thicke and Pharrell lost the case in court, and the jury order a $7.4 million verdict today.  Of course, it is likely to be appealed. 

This does not sound good for a lot of musicians, maybe even DJ's.  The Atlantic has a piece by Spencer Kornhaber here.   On Twitter, I got a comment that the ruling really affects just "samplers", not real composers and songwriters!  This seems to get into the area of "derivative works".  

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