In the post-“Blurred Lines” music industry, where an artist even casually admitting that their work was influenced by another may expose them to potential copyright infringement lawsuits, music labels are taking no chances when commissioning official remixes. In what appears to be a direct response to the surprising verdict in which a jury awarded $5.3 million to Marvin’s Gaye’s estate after finding that Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I.’s smash hit song “Blurred Lines” infringed Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up,” according to Pitchfork at least one major label has incorporated “inspired by” provisions to its “standard legal disclaimers” for song remixes. Such clauses require music producers to agree that none of their remixes of songs contain “material which is ‘inspired by another person’s work.’” This new addition seems inspired by fears that the “Blurred Lines” case made it easier for musicians to succeed on lawsuits alleging a song infringes on their copyright by sharing a similar “vibe” or “feel” to the original work, even if they do not share a melody. Such fear is not unwarranted—for instance, in early 2017 Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani were sued by Richard Morrill who alleged that the pair’s 2014 single “Spark the Fire” infringes on his 1996 song “Who’s Got My Lightah,” primarily due to similar lyrics in the chorus and the shared pronunciation of the word “fire” as “fi-ya,” per The Hollywood Reporter.
Although the 9th Circuit has agreed to hear the appeal of the “Blurred Lines” case, it is evident that fallout from the jury verdict will likely continue to have a profound impact on the music industry.
Tyler Bittner is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).
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