Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were inspired by — but did not plagiarize — Marvin Gaye’s recordings while creating the megahit “Blurred Lines,” an attorney for the musicians told a Los Angeles jury Tuesday, but a lawyer for Gaye’s children said the pop stars clearly copied from the Motown legend.
An eight-member federal civil jury will determine if Thicke and Williams lifted key elements from Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” for their summer 2013 song, and if so, how much money should be awarded in damages to Gaye’s survivors.
“Nobody owns a style, a genre or a groove,” Thicke attorney Howard E. King told the jury in his opening statement. “To be inspired by Marvin Gaye is an honorable thing.”
But Gaye family lawyer Richard S. Busch told the panel that the two songs are “very similar and, at some points, identical,” and that Thicke and Williams admitted in interviews that “Got to Give It Up” was the template for “Blurred Lines.”
The jury of five women and three men was sworn in after hours of questioning by U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt.
The judge asked prospective jurors if they were familiar with the music of Williams and Gaye, whether they played or read music, if they had any thoughts about copyright law and if they were likely to be offended by music videos showing “scantily attired or not attired” women.
Many prospective panelists said they were not familiar with Gaye’s music, but knew Williams’ hits, particularly “Happy.”
In their opening statements, both attorneys used exhibits that enlivened the first day of trial.
King played the colorful “Blurred Lines” video, first telling panelists that there were two versions produced.
“The version you won’t see lacks clothing,” the attorney said.
As the video played, Thicke bobbed his head and smiled as he sat in court.
Earlier, Busch played a “mash-up” of a segment of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” vocals placed over a portion of the “Blurred Lines” melody, played by an electronic keyboard — an attempt to demonstrate how similar the two elements were.
Thicke, facing away from the jury, mouthed the words, “No way,” and shook his head.
The first witness Wednesday in what is expected to be an eight-day trial will be Janis Gaye, mother of two of the three Gaye children who brought the lawsuit. Williams and Thicke are also expected to testify, along with Thicke’s estranged wife, Paula Patton.
The issue is whether Thicke and Williams lifted the Gaye song’s compositional elements, including the melody line found on the sheet music, rather than the overall sound and atmosphere of the record.
The case could potentially be worth millions of dollars to the Gaye clan in damages.
Busch said “Blurred Lines” made more than $40 million from all revenue streams, including tour proceeds.
King, however, told the jury that although the song was profitable, its earnings were “not anywhere near $42 million.”
Writing credits on “Blurred Lines” are shared by Thicke, Williams and rapper T.I., while the production is credited to Williams.
Kronstadt told attorneys for both sides that they would have three days each to present their cases before the jury.
The Gaye children’s 2013 lawsuit also accuses Thicke of lifting from their father’s “After the Dance” for the title track of his 2011 album “Love After War.”
In interviews with GQ and Billboard magazines, Thicke said “Got to Give It Up” was one of his favorite songs and he wanted to “make something like that, something with that groove.”
“Blurred Lines” sold about 15 million copies worldwide, according to Billboard.
— City News Service