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Was ‘Blurred Lines’ Stolen From Marvin Gaye? No.

The first time I heard Robin Thicke and Pharrell William’s Blurred Lines I thought, “This sounds just like Got To Give It Up”. A lot of people thought the same thing… including Marvin Gaye’s heirs. A big, messy lawsuit ensued, which should wrap up any day now.

Blurred Lines (written mostly by Pharrell) evokes the feeling of Marvin Gaye’s classic and indelibly funky track so effectively that at first I thought they sounded the same, that one was a ripoff of the other. I was wrong.

Comparison of the two reveals that there are many more differences than similarities, and that very little in Thicke’s song is even close – compositionally – to Got To Give It Up (GTGIU).

The words are different, the melody is different, the chord progression is different, the tempo is different, the sounds are mostly different… do I have to go on?

What’s not different? Well, Blurred Lines has electric piano on upbeats, that cowbell (not the same pattern though), and the falsetto vocals – elements that are distinctive in GTGIU (but also used in thousands of other songs). They’re both funky. And, in my opinion, they’re both fantastic songs. That’s about it, other than ‘vibe’. And if you’re going to allow people to sue for ‘vibe’…

It’s an homage. Blurred Lines succeeds in evoking the spirit of the Marvin Gaye song. What’s wrong with that? The world would probably be a better place, musically and otherwise, if we evoked Marvin Gaye songs more often. But there are millions of songs that are closer – compositionally – to each other than these two are. Literally, millions.

I know that Thicke and Williams got themselves into trouble by telling conflicting stories about the creation of the song. They seemed to be hiding something. But acting weird and suspicious is not the same as guilt. Even if they lied… that’s not the same as plagiarism.

They started by trying, as many of us songwriters do, to emulate another song, in this case GTGIU. But what they ended up with was a product of their own considerable talents – which is where most of us hope to end up when we start a song by emulating one that already exists.

Just because a recording feels similar to another, or makes the listener feel similar, doesn’t constitute plagiarism. I’m not a lawyer but hey, that’s my opinion. You have to have the same sequence of notes and/or words. And in that respect these two songs are not even close.

Do you have an opinion on this?

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31 responses to “Was ‘Blurred Lines’ Stolen From Marvin Gaye? No.”

  • karl madden

    I hate the video so much I can’t stand listening to the song even if it is well-done. I agree with your take on the plagiarism, but that whole boys-penthouse-jerkoff-hyuk-hyuk-winky-winky-looky-lip-licky-lusty-babes-fantasy bullshit – same old sexploitation. I feel sorry for the parents of those girls. Nothing against testosterone and T&A.

  • Yup I agree with Karl even Pharell looks uncomfortable in this video and yes I agree the two songs are very different.

  • Kat

    Thank you for breaking down the differences. I was one of the “conviction prior to investigation” people. After reading your blog I realize maybe I was quick to judge because I’m not a Robin Thicke fan for the very reason Karl pointed out. I have myself emulated other songs I like and my songs end up very different from the song which inspired me.

  • cj

    Sorry, Tony. Total rip. And according to insider info, Pharrell rarely if ever writes his own stuff.

  • M Suozzo

    Agree Tony The copyright suit that never happened was MJ’s Don’t stop till you get enough” borrowing from the GTGIU part 2.

  • Jo Ann A. K. Poll

    Again, I’ve learned much from you, Professor Tony. Love ’em both (Marvin was a genius). When adjusted for speed they can be played simultaneously which, in court, might be an employed tactic. In the end, something ($) may “Got to be Given Up” for a soothing legal solution. I kind of like the mash-up! Jo Ann Poll, JD

  • Peg

    I would suggest you read the analysis presented in court by experts. They found all but two bars were identical using technology. Would like to see you refute what the other professionals found.

  • Chuck

    I heard something about Thicke/Williams’ lawyers saying they were just trying to evoke the “vibe” of the era and that they were afraid others would be discouraged from doing so given the verdict. I’ve a huge fan of 60s revival music that does just that, and when I hear something that comes to close to original song I kinda wince.
    I’m not sure difference it makes but when a song is created to be as high profile as Blurred Lines was you would think they would be more conscious of the song’s origins

  • Paul Quarry

    Billy Cobham’s Stratos/Massive Attack Safe from Harm…Led Zepplin’s When The Levee Breaks and a bunch of people including Eminem….most of James Brown….”vibes” have been sampled straight (and legitimately paid for) as the basis of songs for a long, long time and that’s cool. What this production team did was sample by recreating. Bang to rights, as we say in England….

  • Deborah Frost

    Tony, this is really interesting and well informed, as both you and your music always are- and I haven’t read all of the comments above, not all of which refer directly to this particular case. But THIS particular case was determined, according to legal precedent, upon the similarities of the LEADSHEETS of the two songs concerned. It was not about what anyone hears by listening to the PRODUCTIONS.

  • Tres Jordan

    It’s funny but Outkast has a song which sounds even more Marvinish than that one. I myself have always wanted to write a song that evokes that as it was one of those songs we would play over and over again at the party.

  • In modern popular music it is understandable that current artists are effectively midgets standing on the shoulders of giants in order to reach new heights… and some similarities are bound to appear in the new works so created. However, when it comes to the particulars and technicalities of copyright law, emotions (particularly envy and jealousy) are usually not well-suited to reaching a correct resolution (and that applies to the jury as well as the many public opinions that abound on this case).

    To date, this “Blurred Lines” decision is the only copyright infringement lawsuit ever in which no specific melody, harmony, rhythm or lyrics were copied. The “that songs reminds me of another song” threshold would be a new legal standard. If this is the new threshold for copyright infringement, a lot of modern artists (like Bruno Mars) and 60s British artists (from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin) could be in trouble!

  • Wayne Somerville

    Basically, Tony, I agree with you. I just think that in this case it is the a combination of the song “form” and the “performance” that makes this more than an homage. Legally, it’s confusing but what is clear to me is that it’s a case of a writer reworking a song “sideways” and reaping the benefits of the original authors brilliant work.

  • Jay

    I was listening to Marvin Gaye’s Gotta give it up, and for some reason another song came up in my mind, it was Prince’s “Kiss”. Haha…

  • egg hegg

    *a homage

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