A Tale Of Two Hit Songs Inspired By Past Hits… And The Very Different Way In Which Copyright Holders Reacted

from the one-good,-one-bad dept

There were two very interesting stories last week concerning hit songs allegedly “inspired” by hits from previous decades, but the stories are quite different. First up, was the news that Robin Thicke (along with Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr.), whose song Blurred Lines appears to be the undisputed hit of the summer this year (with some controversy over the content), had filed for a declaratory judgment against Marvin Gaye’s family and Bridgeport Music, after those two claimed that Blurred Lines infringes on Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up and Funkadelic’s Sexy Ways. You can listen to them below:

Frankly, I can hear the similarities between Blurred Lines and Got to Give it Up (that bass line is pretty damn similar), but, as the filing for declaratory judgment notes, having a similar “feel” or “sound” is not copyright infringement (hello idea/expression dichotomy). As they note, Gaye’s heirs appear to be “claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.”

As for the Funkadelic song, I don’t hear it at all. But… this is Bridgeport, we’re dealing with here, the company that George Clinton continues to claim forged documents to gain control over his copyrights, and which is without a doubt the single most aggressive of the sample trolls out there, going after anyone who uses even the tiniest snippet of some of the copyrights it controls (even if they were obtained by dubious means). Bridgeport has gone after musicians even when they distorted tiny snippets of music so much that the average listener couldn’t recognize the original. So perhaps it claims something similar is happening here.

Either way, the threats came in and Thicke, Williams and Harris decided to strike first with a declaratory judgment. Good for them, but shame on Bridgeport and Marvin Gaye’s heirs. Especially with Marvin Gaye, while the songs may have a similar feel, they’re different songs. They’re both enjoyable in their own ways, and the success of one doesn’t take away from the other. In fact, it seems likely that the massive success of Blurred Lines is driving more interest in Got to Give it Up and other Marvin Gaye songs.

However, compare that dispute to another, very similar, dispute. It appears that there was some controversy over the fact that the band One Direction’s latest song, entitled Best Song Ever (I’d put a joke here, but it sorta speaks for itself), is conspicuously similar to The Who’s classic song Baba O’Riley. Again, to the comparisons:

Again, here, the similarities are pretty obvious and unmistakable. However, unlike Bridgeport or Marvin Gaye, The Who’s Pete Townshend has said that he loves the fact that others are inspired by his works and has no issue with it at all. He was specifically asked if he was going to take legal action against One Direction, and pointed out that so much great music involves copying and building on the works of others:

No! I like the single. I like One Direction. The chords I used and the chords they used are the same three chords we’ve all been using in basic pop music since Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry made it clear that fancy chords don’t mean great music – not always. I’m still writing songs that sound like Baba O’Riley – or I’m trying to!. It’s a part of my life and a part of pop’s lineage. One Direction are in my business, with a million fans, and I’m happy to think they may have been influenced a little bit by The Who. I’m just relieved they’re all not wearing boiler suits and Doc Martens, or Union Jack jackets. The funniest thing is that in Canada this year I met with Randy Bachman once the leader of GUESS WHO who told me that he not only copied Baba O Riley for their hit You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, but he even called his band after us. Why would I not be happy about this kind of tribute?

What a fantastic response in almost every way. And what a stark contrast to the heirs of Marvin Gaye and so many other copyright holders who seem to freak out when others are inspired by their works. Now, if we could just get Townshend to stop blaming Apple for the problems of the recording industry…

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Comments on “A Tale Of Two Hit Songs Inspired By Past Hits… And The Very Different Way In Which Copyright Holders Reacted”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The musicians get that they each build upon each other. The heirs who never contributed a damn thing, feel entitled to something for nothing. The labels are just plain greedy. Perhaps this is why copyright is intended strictly for the author and not for the authors heirs or record labels. The system has been corrupted by politicians who just don’t understand how to create anything.

any moose cow word says:

Re: Re:

Well, most artist get it, but copyright law got the way it is in part because some creators are greedy too. I’m talking about the “original” artist who bash others for “taking” their works after building their own careers by “taking” from those who came before them. And the creators who decried the moral “right” to never have their works touched by another mortal while they still draw breath…or for 70 years after. Those creators have been quite vocal for years, often with huge support from their publishers.

However, the majority of creators who understand and care for their art, the ones who know better, remain silent. Rarely does anyone see the need to stand up and state the obvious.

Divide by Zero (profile) says:

I know it’s been said a million times before, but the fact that the ESTATE can continue to control an artist’s work is just wrong. They had nothing to do with it, so they should just STFU and go contribute something useful instead of just claiming on what their forebears did. Marvin Gaye did the work, the credit & reward should stay with him and no one else.

any moose cow word says:

Can’t say I care much for any of the songs, but none of them are all that similar. The bass line of the first two doesn’t sound alike. The first seems like a basic loop where as the second has an actual bass player. Unless it’s a loop from some small part of Got to Give it Up, there’s no case at all. And even if it was, there’s still no meaningful level of infringement. To me, it’d be like having two movies were one of the characters has a fro and shades and saying one is infringing on the other.

In the second case, it’s obvious that some “copying” was involved, but it’s still fairly small.

equireLLC says:

Its different

Pete Townsend is a musician, he created tons of music much of it very successful. Marvin Gaye?s family are not successful music creators, so they have to paw and scrape after anything the genetic lottery might allow them to lay claim on. Blurred Lines is barely a song, it?s just a chorus repeated over and over, when you make something that simple, it?s going to sound like a lot of other stuff (where is Prince in this?).

celeter says:

Re: Re:

Randolph Charles “Randy” Bachman, OC, OM (/ˈb?kmən/; born September 27, 1943) is a Canadian musician best known as lead guitarist, songwriter and a founding member for both the 1960s?70s rock band The Guess Who, and the 1970s rock band Bachman?Turner Overdrive. Bachman was also a member of the band Brave Belt with Chad Allan, Union and a band called Ironhorse, and has recorded numerous solo albums.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

The Who’s Pete Townshend has said that he loves the fact that others are inspired by his works.
The above quote is bullshit on Townshend’s part. I was inspired enough by ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ to create a pro-Autistic version of it, and when I contacted Townshend for permission to publish it as simple lyrics (not a recording), he said no, claiming that he didn’t want his works to be ‘destroyed by any distortion’.

E. says:

Irony and the Who (who are cool)...

Wow. Irony… just tried the Marvin Gaye song… and it was taken down for copyright infringement.

Don’t think that the song that copied from it was that similar, imo.

The one that was similar to the Who’s song was more alike. Good for Pete Townsend though. Have some respect for him for having a good attitude over this.

Adam Whyte (user link) says:

I think alot of producers look at old songs to revamp or to get an idea, that’s where you get samples from sometimes, like 50 cent’s buzzing song the beggining of that song was taken from an old 70’s classic. As long as you don’t sing the same song and the beat is changed then i don’t see anything wrong with it, i play all some of the songs mentioned above as i’m a wedding DJ for my mobile disco business and often get asked for these tracks just shows people don’t care they just love the music.

max (profile) says:

The law

It never ceases to amaze me how few industry people and especially how few attorneys are aware of the following statute. Maybe because it (red text) is buried deep within millions of words (copyright laws).

However, the law is the law…..why argue anything else? In the case of Robin Thicke v. Gaye (Blurred Lines)…….the case would have been dismissed had this statute (best kept industry secret) been pointed out.

§ 114 . Scope of exclusive rights in sound recordings 48

(a) The exclusive rights of the owner of copyright in a sound recording are limited to the rights specified by clauses (1), (2), (3) and (6) of section 106, and do not include any right of performance under section 106(4).

(b) The exclusive right of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clause (1) of section 106 is limited to the right to duplicate the sound recording in the form of phonorecords or copies that directly or indirectly recapture the actual sounds fixed in the recording. The exclusive right of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clause (2) of section 106 is limited to the right to prepare a derivative work in which the actual sounds fixed in the sound recording are rearranged, remixed, or otherwise altered in sequence or quality. The exclusive rights of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clauses (1) and (2) of section 106 do not extend to the making or duplication of another sound recording that consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording. The exclusive rights of the owner of copyright in a sound recording under clauses (1), (2), and (3) of section 106 do not apply to sound recordings included in educational television and radio programs (as defined in section 397 of title 47) distributed or transmitted by or through public broadcasting entities (as defined by section 118(f)): Provided, That copies or phonorecords of said programs are not commercially distributed by or through public broadcasting entities to the general public.

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