In the highly complex and often emotion-filled copyright dispute between the Marvin Gaye family and Robin Thicke over the latter’s hit tune “Blurred Lines,” the playing field was somewhat simplified this week. According to The Hollywood Reporter, in what seems to be typical big-corporation wash-your-hands fashion, Sony/ATV has settled with the Gaye estate for an undisclosed amount, thereby removing itself as a defendant in the copyright infringement lawsuit. Robin Thicke, however, is still preparing to defend himself in court.
Maybe we should go back to the beginning.
The initial dispute arose last spring/summer over alleged similarities between “Blurred Lines” and the Marvin Gaye tune, “Got To Give It Up.” The Marvin Gaye family believes the two songs sound so similar that copyrights have been infringed; the Thicke camp insists the songs are similar but distinct.
Then came the lawsuits—the first, surprisingly enough, from Robin Thicke himself, who proactively sought protection from the court against any forthcoming litigation by declaring that “Blurred Lines” had violated no copyright laws. Not long after, the Gaye estate predictably countersued Thicke for copyright infringement—but also named EMI April in the lawsuit, which is owned by Sony/ATV, alleging that the company had not only failed to protect Marvine Gaye’s catalog, but also stood to gain from Thicke’s alleged copyright violation.
This put Sony/ATV in a remarkably difficult position, because EMI has administered copyrights for both artists. Involving them in the lawsuit could have easily caused the music conglomerate to explain a possible conflict of interest in representing both parties, not to mention forcing them to choose between the interests of two artists on its roster. So the company did what any company with money would do—they settled. The terms are not public, but Sony/ATV and EMI are now (theoretically) off the hook, leaving Robin Thicke essentially to fend for himself in the ongoing dispute.
I say “theoretically” because while Sony/ATV is no longer being sued, they could still be put in the middle. EMI’s role in clearing “Blurred Lines” for publishing could be a key talking point in Thicke’s defense, and as the case proceeds toward trial, the company can still be subpoenaed to explain how it arrived at its determination that the two songs are not significantly similar.
“Blurred Lines” was the best-selling single of 2013 in both the United States and Great Britain, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks and selling nearly 6 million copies over a 30-week period.