[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyDUC1LUXSU?start=0&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=450]A jury issued a landmark verdict on Tuesday in a trial pitting some of the biggest names in music against one another. Marvin Gaye’s family had sued pop artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, saying that their song “Blurred Lines” infringed on the copyright for Gaye’s song “Got To Give It Up.” The jury agreed, awarding Gaye’s family $7.4 million.
The verdict is notable because Gaye’s 1977 hit was published just before a major overhaul of copyright law in 1978, so the jury had to fall back on 1909 copyright law to determine whether Thicke and Pharrell had infringed. (The 1970’s legal change has been an inspiration to the litigious, spurring Digital Millennium Copyright Act disputes between recording companies and content-upload sites like Grooveshark.)
In an early pretrial hearing, the judge ruled that the 1909 law only protected the song’s sheet music, not the actual sound of the song. But in a later hearing, the judge changed his mind, ordering Thicke and Williams’ lawyers to produce an audio version of the specific elements of the song that were copyrighted and on file at the Library of Congress. That version included a bass line and some keyboard chords under Gaye’s voice, but not the similar percussion that tends to draw people to make the connection between the two songs. The jury heard “Blurred Lines” repeatedly throughout the trial but never heard the full version of “Got To Give It Up.”
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