A Harvard University musicologist testified Friday in a Los Angeles music copyright case that some contested passages in hit songs by Robin Thicke and Marvin Gaye share few common elements.
The Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard, retained by the Gaye family in litigation against Thicke and others, conceded under cross-examination that the all-important choruses in Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s 1977 chart-topper “Got to Give It Up” have little in common.
But under questioning by a Gaye family lawyer, Ingrid T. Monson told the eight-member federal civil jury that similarities between the two songs can be found in comparisons of “melody, harmony and phrase structure,” while keyboard and bass parts are “shared.”
Playing for the jury a prepared recording in which a keyboardist plays a segment of “Blurred Lines” with Gaye’s isolated “Got to Give It Up” vocals superimposed over the top, Monson testified that the “melodies and harmonies are compatible.”
Responding to Gaye family attorney Richard S. Busch, Monson said it was “possible that while ‘Blurred Lines’ was being created, ‘Got to Give It Up’ was playing in the background.”
The answer was stricken by U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt.
Monson, the second musicologist to testify for the Gayes, told the jury that “Got to Give It Up” was unique in the Motown catalog due to the originality of the keyboard and bass parts and couldn’t be placed within a certain musical genre.
However, Thicke attorney Seth Miller suggested that the chord pattern used in the songs was far from unique.
Monson took the stand following more than three hours of testimony from fellow musicologist Judith Finell, who concluded that, after dissecting the two songs, she found “many overriding similarities” in words and music.
Thicke and Williams were not in court for a second consecutive day, but are expected to testify sometime next week when their lawyers put on a defense case.
The lawsuit was originally brought by Thicke, singer/producer Pharrell Williams and song co-writer Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr. as a preemptive strike to protect “Blurred Lines” from legal claims that it was derived from the decades-old Gaye hit.
Frankie and Nona Gaye then filed counterclaims alleging that Thicke’s apparent fascination with their late father led to the misappropriation of Marvin Gaye’s work in the creation of “Blurred Lines” and the title track of the pop star’s 2011 “Love After War” album.
The Gaye clan contend that Thicke and Williams plagiarized at least eight key elements of “Got to Give It Up.”
At issue is whether Thicke and Williams lifted the Gaye song’s compositional parts, including the melody line found on the registered sheet music, rather than the overall sound and atmosphere of the record.
Thicke testified Tuesday that he couldn’t read music, and Williams indicated as much in an April 2014 deposition played for the jury.
The Gayes contend that “Blurred Lines” has earned more than $40 million, including $11 million in tour proceeds, since its 2013 release.
Thicke co-counsel Howard E. King countered that although the song was profitable, its earnings were not close to the $40 million figure. King also said that the Gaye family earns about $100,000 a year from “Got to Give It Up” alone.
Writing credits on “Blurred Lines” are shared by Thicke, Williams and Harris, while the production is credited to Williams.
The Gayes’ 2013 lawsuit also accuses Thicke of lifting from their father’s “After the Dance” for “Love After War.”
“Blurred Lines” sold about 15 million copies worldwide, according to Billboard.
Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his father in Los Angeles on April 1, 1984.
Trial resumes Tuesday.
— City News Service