The appeal lodged by US artists Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and TI (aka Clifford Harris Jr.) against the verdict that determined that their co-written song Blurred Lines copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit Got to Give It Up has received the support from over 200 fellow songwriters who argue that “the verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works.”
In other words, songwriters are concerned that any song that sounds similar to another song could be considered as infringing some other songwriters' copyright. On August 30, 212 songwriters — as diverse as Jason Mraz, Hans Zimmer, R. Kelly, John Oates, Tears For Fears' Curt Smith, as well as members of Earth Wind & Fire, Train, Linkin Park, Tool, Three 6 Mafia, The Go-Go's and Dirty Loops — filed an amicus brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, supporting the Blurred Lines co-writers in their attempt to get the 2015 verdict overturned.
In the brief, penned by lawyer Ed McPherson from Los Angeles-based law firm McPherson Rane LLP, the “amici” said that they were “concerned about the potential adverse impact on their own creativity, on the creativity of future artists, and on the music industry in general, if the judgment in this case is allowed to stand.”
They argued that “all music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre. 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 law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is”.
The brief stated that the two songs in the matter “do not have similar melodies,” “do not even share a single melodic phrase,” have “entirely different song structures” and “do not share any lyrics”. The only explanation for the verdict, they stated in the brief, was that there was the perception that the two songs shared a similar “feel” or “groove.”
They claimed that the accused were “found liable for the infringement of an idea, or a series of ideas, and not for the tangible expression of those ideas.” They believe that this is “antithetical” to the US Copyright Act, which protects the expressions of ideas, not ideas themselves.
They concluded: “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.”
Meanwhile, another unexpected party also stepped in through an amicus brief. Non-profit Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, through its director of the Patent Reform Project Charles Duan, argued that “in all fields of art, borrowing from past works is an essential element. In the field of music, borrowing takes on a particular importance, due to the nature of music as an art form”. Since creative works build upon other creative works, copyright law should not limit creativity by expanding over non-copyrightable elements in those works, according to Duan.
He added: “It is essential that musicians be allowed to engage in this sort of borrowing. We enjoy music because it evokes memories and feelings as we listen to it. Composers cannot evoke those memories and feelings without making reference to things we have heard in the past. Copyright law should not get in the way of a composer’s ability to make these sorts of references. To do otherwise would seriously inhibit the creation of new music.”
Last week, lawyers for Williams, Thicke and TI filed their own opening brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in their appeal against the verdict that ordered to pay $5.3 million and 50% of songwriting and publishing revenues of Blurred Lines to the heirs of Marvin Gaye. In the brief, they argue that “if left to stand, the Blurred Lines verdict would chill musical creativity and inhibit the process by which later artists draw inspiration from earlier artists to create new popular music".