Blatant vs. Homage

blurred lines
Original image found at Complex

Blatant

Today, I re-tweeted a news story about the recent jury decision concerning the legitimacy of the song “Blurred Lines” and if it used/stole/copied/ripped off parts of the 1977 song by Marvin Gaye “Got To Give It Up” Here’s a short YouTube video that contains part of both songs for comparison:

I think if my ears love music and can recognize a familiar set of notes strung together, that there are parts of the song that are very similar. The bass, the percussion and the tempo all sound like they came from Gaye’s song. In back and forth tweets that were hinged from my above RT, fellow blogger and long time BL reader Kevin at @kapgar is of the opinion that this is a blatant rip off. I can see, given all of the above similarities in both songs, that this is a logical conclusion to make.

Homage

I, on the other hand, feel this is more an homage than a blatant rip off. Wait, WHAT? Why? I just said above that there are parts of “Blurred Lines” that are very similar to “Got To Give It Up” But the similar parts of the song are not blatant rip offs but created separately by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Copyright infringement is an interesting term that is more about stealing a specific plot idea, a piece of written work or a note for note lifting of a song. “Blurred Lines” did not take the exact recording and place it into the song. If there’s any direct connection to Marvin Gaye’s song, it’s that they recreated a similar version of the back beat and used it in the hit 2013 song. Recreating beats and notes is done for just about every piece of written music every created. I’m sure there’s a ton of similar notes that played out in a Chuck Berry song that are part of many early rock and roll songs from the 60’s to the mid 70’s. You listen to enough classic songs, you can hear parts of songs that came before them.

Similar

From my tweet above, I noted that I was “Sad” in that these type of litigation are going to change how musicians approach their method of writing music. The jury made their decision to award in favor of the Gaye estate/family based on many things [character defamation being one of them] but it was that the songs had parts that sounded familiar.

Who hasn’t heard stories of guitarists that listened to Jimmy Page play guitar and pattern their guitar skills after his, recreating every strum and solo – note for note – to many of Led Zeppelin’s songs in their early years, incorporation many of those same styles and strums into their own compositions. Ozzy Osbourne’s entry into music was due to his long time love of The Beatles. And any music lover can pick out a lot of Beatles influence in many Black Sabbath songs. Litigation over similar sounding songs is very common in the music industry. You rarely see a high profile case make it to court. Most cases are settled out of court, like the recent Sam Smith and Tom Petty similar case. Sam Smith didn’t create “Stay With Me” as a rip off of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” It was the case of something common that took on a very similar tempo that eventually caught the ears of songwriters Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. They worked things out amicably. A lot of cases are dropped when the accusing party realizes it wasn’t a rip off of their sounds. A coincidence of notes combined together.

Courting

That amicable setting didn’t happen with the “Blurred Lines” case. Once the Gaye family filed suit, Thicke and Pharrell filed their own counter suit, which was a very stupid decision. It obviously didn’t make them look like they wanted to sort things out. The Gaye family is now wanting to halt all sales of the song, pulling it from the market. That’s not a decision for Thicke and Pharrell. That’s up to the record companies, who were not the ones being sued in this case. Sounds like the Gaye family will be back in court soon. The search for more money? I hope not, because that would be taking this to entire new level of compensation. I don’t think Michael Bolton was asked to remove all copies of his “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” when he lost a lawsuit from The Isley Brothers. Such a thing to happen is very rare, from my findings.

No, what we have here is years of music that artists have created. Ever heard a song that gives you pause and you say to yourself, “I’ve heard something like this before.” Is your first reaction, “Gee, I wonder if that musician ripped off that song from long ago?” I know I don’t and I don’t think many music lovers do either. No, it’s a familiar tune because there’s only so many ways you can construct notes together. A lot of reggae songs are similar with the same beat and same song construction. I can go on with more examples.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

When I posted a response on Twitter that I was sad about this verdict, I’m not openly supporting all artists to rip each other off without proper rights, permissions or forgiveness. No. I’m sad because now this type of case has been decided in a court of law and that future musicians will need to spend hours, days and weeks culling over millions of songs to see if their creations sound anything like any other songs. The purpose of writing music will shift from writing a great song to “What the fuck, don’t want to get sued!” Seriously. Who wants to get sued? The creativity, or the likelihood of creativity will take second stage with legal worries rising to the top. Homage will be a term of the past, musically.

Yes, there are artists out there that blatantly rip off others because they are lazy and are only looking for the big bucks. And while songs like “Blurred Lines” – which to be honest, I’m not really that fond of the song – made a tidy profit, have a similar sound and back beat, I don’t think that each song that uses a similar back beat is an attempt to steal from a previous recording. But given the smell of money, I don’t think we’ll see the last of court cases looking for every combination of an A, C and G strung together multiple times.

Links

  • The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Blurred Lines’ Jury Orders Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to Pay $7.4 Million
  • The Hollywood Reporter: Marvin Gaye Family Lawyer: How I Won the ‘Blurred Lines’ Trial (Guest Column)
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