A Music Professional's Take on the Blurred Lines Verdict

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Blurred Lines verdict

Editor’s Note: From time to time I give my husband, James Mandell, the podium, especially when he has particularly relevant or passionate insight. As a talented musician/composer who was educated at the New England Conservatory, has had several record deals with major labels and is busily composing today, I believe his thoughts on the Blurred Lines verdict are particularly relevant.

BLURRED LINES BLUR MINDS

By James Mandell

In what is sure to be a classic indictment of… juries, the Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke song Blurred Lines was found to be in violation of copyright, and its rich songwriters were ordered to pay $7.3 million – half the song’s earnings – to the estate of Marvin Gaye.

What a crock. Copyright up until this moment has rightly been about protecting work that is protectable: the same exact notes of a song running about eight bars in length, or the same paragraphs in a book or a screenplay that tell the same exact story.

But with the recent Blurred Lines verdict, courtesy of a group of clueless amateurs, the courts have once again “sent a message” (which I’m certain is one of the stock phrases the plaintiff’s attorney delivered in summation) that this kind of plagiarism must not be left unnoticed, lest the fabric of America be torn asunder and then god help us all.

So if we’re now going to rule against “feel,” where exactly does that leave us, say, when someone records the Blues? Oh-ho, watch out BB, you have been a baaad boy. You copped the feel of 89,000 other blues records feels and now you’re gonna pay! You used the same chords. You stole that unmistakable shuffle that make folks feel so good on half of Howlin Wolf’s and Elvis’ and Buddy Holly’s entire catalog of work! No place to hide, Bono. The Stones are gonna paint you black. Duck, Rianna – Whitney’s people are comin’ for a piece o’ you!

The Blurred Lines verdict is insane. America needs a professional jury system, and could put half a million educated folks to work if we had one. Imagine a court system with jurors who were schooled to interpret the law with calm intelligence and insight. Meanwhile, just what IS the message this band o’ bozos has just sent? Keep your songwriting head down and for pete’s sake, don’t compose anything in 4/4. The timekeepers are listening.

Read the specific details of the Blurred Lines verdict in the New York Times.

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

7 Comments

  1. AJ on March 11, 2015 at 8:46 am

    I was just having a conversation about this the other day, sparked by comments I overheard during my son’s piano lesson. His piano teacher was going over various chord progressions & pointing out, while performing multiple songs from various artists who used them in much the same way. How can we expect to continue to have as much variety of music as we currently enjoy if we encounter this kind of reaction from a court. Absurd! Thank you James, for your expert insight. And thank you Lisa for sharing your wise & talented husband’s words.

  2. leah sydney on March 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Jim, I so agree with all! Thanks for writing..

  3. james horn on March 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    You continue to amaze me with your intellect and keen observance of the obvious. Of course you are correct in what you say. However, Jim, beware not to speak truth regarding the ‘jury system.’ Do you really want to take America back to the days of burning witches at the stake based upon, dare I say, ‘hear say?’ A professional jury system would render the bottom 50% of the legal community to feasting on that left by the garbage can. Oh! Wait! We already have such a system… Sorry to have wasted your time. (Great job, my friend)

  4. Craige on March 12, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Thank you for an insightful commentary.
    They must have imported jurors from the Zimmerman case?
    Hopefully verdict will go to dust where it belongs.

  5. Cindy Crompton on March 12, 2015 at 9:59 am

    i agree Jim.. Now the lines are really “blurred”!

  6. MusicianGuy on March 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    And, the Blues is an excellent EXAMPLE. It’s by no means the ONLY example. How many non-musicians are aware of the hundreds of songs which use either the EXACT chord progression or a “version” of the chord progression of “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin? The progression is so common, musicians now refer to the chord changes as “Rhythm Changes”. From “The Flintstones” to “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (Nat Cole), or “Five Guys Named Mo'” (Louis Jordan), they are all using the same “Rhythm Changes”. None are INFRINGING.

    If you are interested in how this works, look up “Rhythm Changes” in the Wikipedia. There is an article on it, which lays out most of the common lore on how this chord progression works, and shows the several most common variations on it.

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