Last week, attorneys for Robin Thicke and his “Blurred Lines” collaborators Pharrell and T.I. confused me enormously when they filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against Marvin Gaye’s estate and against Funkadelic rights-holders Bridgeport Music. The idea, as I understood it, was this: Thicke and his people feared that the Gaye family and Bridgeport Music might sue over alleged similarities between “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” and/or Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways,” so they were suing first. It seemed weird: Aren’t you supposed to wait until the other people sue to launch your countersuit? But perhaps Thicke and his people had reason to fear.
Before filing that lawsuit, Billboard reports that Thicke’s people offered the Gaye family a “six-figure” settlement, just to avoid any possible copyright court battle. The Gaye family rejected them. Gaye’s son Marvin Gaye III has told TMZ, “We’re not happy with the way that he went about doing business let alone suing us for something where he clearly got his inspiration from at the least.”
Here’s the thing, though. If “inspiration” suddenly becomes a justifiable basis for a lawsuit, nobody is ever going to be able to make new music again. “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up” are totally different songs. (Great songs, too, I’d argue.) Thicke has already admitted to an influence, and there’s perhaps some similarity in the drum patterns. But it’s not like Thicke was out here swiping hooks. And while it might be nice to see the Velvet Underground or the Replacements suddenly getting crazy rich, this would set a truly dangerous precedent. We’ll have to see how it plays out.