The legal battles between Robin Thicke and the estate of Marvin Gaye have been going on for a while; they’re bitter and weird, and they’re only heating up. A couple of months ago, Thicke filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Gaye clan, to prevent the Gayes from suing Thicke and to make it legally clear that there were no actionable similarities between Thicke’s massive summer hit “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s classic “Got To Give It Up.” Later, Billboard reported a story that the Gaye family had turned down a six-figure settlement from Thicke. And now the Gaye family is suing the shit out of Thicke and EMI.
As The Hollywood Reporter reports, the Gaye family claims that Thicke stole not only “Blurred Lines” from Gaye but that Thicke’s 2011 single “Love After War” rips off Gaye’s “After The Dance” and that a “Marvin Gaye fixation” runs through Thicke’s entire body of work. The Gaye family is also suing the song publisher EMI April, which has had relationships with both the Gaye family and Thicke, claiming that EMI didn’t adequately protect the Gaye catalog and that the company attempted to intimidate the Gayes and keep them from filing the lawsuit. The suit claims that EMI should lose rights to “Blurred Lines” and to the Gaye catalog.
The lawsuit cites a GQ interview in which Thicke claims that he and his collaborators had talked about “Got To Give It Up” in the studio when they were putting together “Blurred Lines”: “Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.” They’ve also brought in a musicologist who claims that the songs share “at least eight substantially similar compositional features,” which “far [surpass] the similarities that might result from attempts to evoke an ‘era’ of music or a shared genre.” And the Gaye kids claim that EMI planted the story about the six-figure settlement, which they say was not true.
Whatever you think of Thicke, or of Gaye’s legacy, this is a very dangerous and frivolous lawsuit. Thicke is obviously profoundly influenced by Marvin Gaye, but “Blurred Lines” is simply not the same song as “Got To Give It Up.” And if musicians can start suing other musicians based on matter of influence, it’s going to fuck the whole game up. If the suit is successful, it’s not hard to envision a future in which, say, the Sam Cooke estate could sue the Marvin Gaye estate. I can’t imagine the Gaye family will succeed in its crusade here, but we’ll see what happens.