The ‘Blurred Lines’ between influence and infringement

Kenan Draughorne | Daily Trojan

Since skyrocketing to the top of the charts in 2013, Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s smash hit “Blurred Lines” has become one of the most consequential songs in recent history, due to its convoluted, three-year legal battle that has recently seen another conclusion. This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 ruling that the song infringed upon the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up,” although the methodology of the decision has many in the industry up in arms.

When the original jury made its decision three years ago, much was made of the limits of a standard copyright, of which there was confusion to whether or not the members fully understood. Typically, these copyrights are limited to the sound recording itself, as well as the song’s physical composition, such as the chords, melodies and lyrics. Place “Blurred Lines” next to “Got to Give it Up,” and many musicologists have agreed that there was no legitimate claim for infringement, as the two songs are structurally different.

That being the case, the feeling elicited by the two songs is undeniably similar. Thicke and his lawyers even alluded to this when they stated in a preemptive lawsuit that the idea behind the song “was to evoke an era,” essentially creating an experience for listeners that harkened back to the music of Gaye, among others. Historically, this has been acceptable, as there’s never been a law saying that the “vibe” of a song could be stolen — although that’s exactly the precedent this “Blurred Lines” ruling could set.

Because artists are constantly finding songwriting inspiration from the work of others, this kind of crossover is nearly inevitable, and at times even elicits praise rather than claims of theft. The vibe of Janelle Monáe’s “It’s Code” is eerily reminiscent of “Never Can Say Goodbye” by The Jackson 5, although none of the members received a songwriting credit. Rather than cries for Monáe to pay royalties to the group, she’s earned praise for harnessing that energy, as well as the energy of other earlier artists on songs throughout her discography, for future generations. More recently, Young M.A’s 2016 hit “OOOUUU” borrowed heavily from Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N*gga” from two years prior, yet even the original creator didn’t see an issue, telling Complex, “it sounds like Brooklyn, it sounds like it’s supposed to sound like.”

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

It’s relatively easy for established, wealthy artists to pay a portion of their sum back to the artists they take inspiration from, but for the aspiring musician still fighting for his or her voice to be heard, this change could have dire consequences. Commonly asked in interviews, the question “What inspired your sound?” becomes a dicey, expensive minefield rather than an innocent way to learn how a song came together; while in the actual studio, artists would become much more wary about incorporating their influences into their music, disrupting a natural timeline that has helped define generations.

None of these questions were considered in the appeals process, however — instead, it revolved around the actual court proceedings in the original case, and whether or not they were handled correctly. In a 2-1 decision, the panel of judges ruled that these proceedings were in fact carried out properly, while abstaining from a ruling on the actual verdict and whether or not it was just. Judge Jacqueline Nguyen touched on this in her dissent, however, saying the decision “strikes a devastating blow to future musicians” by opening the floodgates for infringement litigations. With plenty of evidence to support her viewpoint, it remains to be seen if the team behind “Blurred Lines” will look to push the issue into higher courts; and with much more at stake than the fate of the groovy single, there are plenty of onlookers who are hoping that they do.

Why I’m smiling: Trouble – Edgewood

Eight days after announcing his signing to Mike WiLL Made-It’s Ear Drummer imprint, Atlanta rapper Trouble has dropped a new mixtape entirely produced by the label’s head honcho to give fans a taste of what’s to come. Containing Mike WiLL’s signature hard-hitting 808’s next to biting, aggressive flows from Trouble, there’s a lot for rap fans to get excited about, highlighted on The Weeknd-assisted “Come Thru.”

Why I’m shaking my head: NAV takes shots at XXL’s Freshman List

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Why I’m hopeful for the future: Rich the Kid – The World is Yours

A Kendrick Lamar feature can always do wonders for a surging career, and several months after “New Freezer” boosted Rich the Kid’s mainstream visibility, he’ll look to follow through on that potential with his debut studio album The World is Yours. Other singles such as “Plug Walk” gained heavy traction with placements on Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist, and now the album contains a star-studded tracklist that includes Lil Wayne, Swae Lee and Khalid. There’s plenty of deserved anticipation for the project; hopefully, the Atlanta-based rapper is able to deliver.

Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” runs Mondays.