A Music Professional's Take on the 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.