Marvin Gaye Family Not Done With Pharrell Just Yet: Bring Him Back To Court Claiming Perjury

from the oh-come-on dept

The Blurred Lines lawsuit is the case that just keeps on giving... if the gift you're looking for is legal shenanigans and ridiculous situations. As you'll recall, that was the case in which Marvin Gaye's family suggested that because the Pharrell/Robin Thicke song "Blurred Lines" paid homage to Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" with a similar groove, that it was infringing on Gaye's copyright. The whole thing was crazy -- and somehow the court bought it. Despite there not being any actual copying of any copyright-protected content, just the mere similarity of feeling in the song is enough to infringe.

This has created quite a frenzy of nonsense, with artists now afraid to even mention their inspirations, lest they get sued, and sued again for every song they release. The situation has gotten so insane that even the RIAA has stepped in to say that perhaps copyright has gone too far in protecting works. Yes, the RIAA said that copyright may be protecting too much. This is pigs flying, snow in hell, cats and dogs living together, madness.

And, believe it or not, the original case apparently is not fully over yet. During the original case, Pharrell gave a deposition claiming that he didn't intend to copy Marvin Gaye:

"I did not go in the studio with the intention of making anything feel like, or to sound like, Marvin Gaye."

But... in a recent GQ published video interview between Pharrell and famed music producer Rick Rubin, Pharrell made an off-hand comment about this same issue. Throughout the interview, he talks about "channeling" other artists when he's in the studio.

Then somewhere along the line he mentions the Blurred Lines mess, by saying (around 28 minutes into the interview):

Pharrell: But I think for the most part, what we always try to do was reverse engineer the songs that did something to us emotionally and figure out where the mechanism is in there, and as I said to you before, try to figure out if we can build a building that doesn't look the same but makes you feel the same way. I did that in Blurred Lines and got myself in trouble.

Rubin: Ridiculously.

Pharrell: Stevie Wonder told me, he said, 'you gotta get the right musicologists in there because juries don't understand -- it's very technical what you've done.'

Rubin: Because the song is nothing like the song

Pharrell: Nope, but the feeling was.

Rubin: But the feeling is not something you can copyright.

Pharrell: No, you can't copyright a feeling. All salsa songs sound pretty much the same.

Rubin: Yes. And reggae songs. Any genre.

Pharrell: 100 percent.

Rubin: Trap music sounds relatively similar.

Pharrell: But here's the difference. What we failed-- And it hurt my feelings. 'Cause I would never take anything from anyone. And that really set me back.... But I was really hurt, because what I realized all too late was that what he was trying to tell me was that I needed to do was use my gift to make music, to reverse engineer the disparity between the truth and the jury's uneducated opinions. And I say that, because rayon and silk feel the same, but we understand that there's a clear difference. And that was what happened.

Rubin: Yeah.

Pharrell: Like, I really made it feel so much like it, that people were like, oh, I hear the same thing.

And, so, in a new filing by the Gaye Estate (first noted by THREsq), they're claiming that Pharrell perjured himself in his deposition by saying that he had no intention to channel Gaye:

In the November 4, 2019 Interview, among other things, Williams admits the following:

(1) in creating a new song, he often tries to “reverse engineer” an older song that did “something to us emotionally,” so that he can “figure out where the mechanism is in [the original song],” and “build a building that doesn’t look the same but makes us feel the same way,” and that he “did that in ‘Blurred Lines’ and I got myself in trouble;” and

(2) he actually did too good of a job in this reverse engineering when it came to “Got To” and “Blurred”: “I really made it [‘Blurred’] feel so much like it [‘Got To’], that people were like, oh, I hear the same thing.”

As discussed further below, these admissions are irreconcilable with Williams’s repeated, sworn testimony in this action that: neither “Got To” nor Marvin Gaye ever entered his mind while creating “Blurred,” that he did not try to make “Blurred” feel like “Got To” or sound like Marvin Gaye, and that when creating music Williams looks “into oblivion. We look into that which does not exist.”

Hilariously, the filing tries to make sure that the court does not pay attention to other parts of the interview -- notably, the long section about how it's ridiculous to argue that you can copyright a "feeling."

As a matter of introduction and clarity, and to avoid all doubt so there is no misunderstanding about what this Motion is not about: this Motion is not about whether Williams and Robin Thicke (“Thicke”) committed copyright infringement with respect to “Got To.” This Motion is also not about Williams’s very public pronouncements in this Court, in the media, in the November 4, 2019 Interview, and elsewhere that one cannot copyright a feeling, that all music within a genre supposedly sounds the same, and his belief that “Blurred” and “Got To” are not compositionally the same (one supposedly being “rayon” and one being “silk” according to Williams). The jury, this Court, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have all spoken on those issues.

The whole case is a mess, but this part of the dispute, including this silly claim of perjury, is just an attempt to get even more money out of Pharrell, this time in seeking attorneys' fees for the Gaye family's lawyers.

And, of course, all it will really do is remind musicians to never credit their sources, to never talk about their process, and to hinder future musicians for years, if not decades. All for an extra buck.

Filed Under: blurred lines, copyright, feelings, groove, inspiration, marvin gaye, perjury, pharrell, pharrell williams, rick rubin


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 1:11pm

    Marvin Gaye and his estate

    Marvin Gaye was a wonderful musician.

    His estate, however, are a pack of ravenous wolves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 2:05pm

      Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

      I'm beginning to suspect that Marvin Gaye's relatives are not very nice people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 2:52pm

        Re: Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

        I'm beginning to suspect that Marvin Gaye's relatives are not very nice people.

        What makes you say that? [/s]

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2019 @ 4:12pm

      Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

      I hope they have a horrible Christmas. And worse. Karma is a bitch.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 7:58pm

        Re: Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

        'May your life be filled with people just like you.'

        If someone is a good person, it's a wish that they be surrounded by similarly good people.

        If someone is a greedy, dishonest, or otherwise unpleasant person on the other hand...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 7:30am

      Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

      "Marvin Gaye was a wonderful musician"

      Getting worse all the time thanks to his ex-wife and kids.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 8:13am

        Re: Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

        I think I should clarify: When Marvin Gaye was alive, he was wonderful. He was killed by his father over jealousy (if I have my facts straight). And his other relatives also have similar tunnel vision: wishing to indulge for short-term gain whilst making the world a worse place in the process.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 13 Dec 2019 @ 3:56am

          Re: Re: Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

          This is the trouble with copyright terms being too long. If we kept it to the 28 max it used to be we wouldn't be having these problems. However, copyright has now become about being an insurance and assurance package -- which it was never meant to be.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Samuel Abram (profile), 14 Dec 2019 @ 9:08am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Marvin Gaye and his estate

            Wendy, you put it better than I ever could. This is why I put it in my will that when I'm dead, all of my copyrighted works will enter the public domain; You never know if some dead relative will get jealous.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    fish food, 11 Dec 2019 @ 3:13pm

    Have to say, this lawsuit ruined Gaye's music for me. I hate that, but I when I hear a song now I just think, "copyright leeches".

    That's not the "feel" I want to "channel" when listening to music. So I took his music out of rotation on my media server and probably should just delete them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2019 @ 3:19pm

    I was under the impression the Katy Perry conviction was even more damaging than this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 3:51pm

    Now we see the true purpose of a copyright that lasts long after the creator is deceased. It allows their heirs to continue being creative in demanding others pay them for work the heirs never did.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 3:59pm

    Did they hear it on the grapevine?
    "how much money can they make thine?"

    oh, I'm just about to lose my mind....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Dec 2019 @ 7:54pm

    Oh that's not all...

    And, of course, all it will really do is remind musicians to never credit their sources, to never talk about their process, and to hinder future musicians for years, if not decades.

    It also reminds musicians and/or customers to stay as far away from the greedy, short-sighted parasites that are the Gaye estate, lest they support such destructive money-hungry leeches.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 5:23am

    ironic

    This very series of events will cause artists to consciously avoid mentioning/referencing anything Marvin Gaye-like, and actually propel Gaye into anonymity and irrelevance. Not likely what the original artist was hoping for when he created his art.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2019 @ 9:30am

    In the November 4, 2019 Interview, among other things, Williams admits the following:
    (1) in creating a new song, he often tries to “reverse engineer” an older song that did “something to us emotionally,” so that he can “figure out where the mechanism is in [the original song],” and “build a building that doesn’t look the same but makes us feel the same way,” and that he “did that in ‘Blurred Lines’ and I got myself in trouble;” and
    (2) he actually did too good of a job in this reverse engineering when it came to “Got To” and “Blurred”: “I really made it [‘Blurred’] feel so much like it [‘Got To’], that people were like, oh, I hear the same thing.”

    That's not what Pharrell is saying; The lawyers are interjecting words into the interview to change the narrative to support their claim.

    What Pharrell is saying here is that a song can create an emotional response, and he wants to reproduce the emotional response with his music that you felt when you listened to the other music. So, if "Got To" makes you feel sexy, Pharrell wants to make a song that also makes you feel sexy. But "this song makes you feel sexy" is not even close to the same as "this song sounds like "Got To,"" and any song that "makes you feel sexy" does not automatically infringe on "Got To" because it happens to generate a similar emotional response.

    I don't think Pharrell was specifically listening to Marvin Gaye and thought "I gotta make a song like this." At most, he might have been thinking about a group of songs of a particular style, "songs that make you feel sexy," for example, of which Gaye's song was one.

    But honestly, even if he was, it's still not copyright infringement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeComposer (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 12:04pm

    Isn't perjury a criminal charge?

    How can a civil lawsuit invoke a criminal charge? Wouldn't perjury have to be charged by a law enforcement agency?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Dec 2019 @ 12:48pm

    COURT ISNT TRUTH..

    Its funny..
    And proven that IF'
    if you wanted truth in court, you would have some Really Means things for those that lie.. but we dont.

    A lady declared a person raped her, and that person finally was sent to jail, even tho he had proof otherwise of his location..
    After 10 years, the Girl recanted..
    I dont know if they let the person out..(harder to get out, then IN)

    And the odds are the girl gets away with it..
    A person sent to Jail, for Drug distribution, is in for Life..
    THE State made MJ legal, Because his sentence started Before it was legal...he is still in jail..

    court is like 2 kids telling Mom, who did what.. and who ever she believes, gets off..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2019 @ 10:02am

    It's clear from the context of that interview that he was trying to make a song that made people feel, emotionally, the way Gaye's song made them feel. That doesn't made the song itself has to "feel" the same. It could be that two completely different songs make people worried, then relieved, for example.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 13 Dec 2019 @ 11:24am

      Re:

      1. These lawyers try to equivocate "songs that feel the same" and "songs that make you feel the same".
      2. Neither of these interpretations is subject to copyright anyway. Except if you manage to confuse jurors enough.

      My trust in the justice system is pretty limited in some cases.
      Complex technical or legal points are definitely not something you want random people to judge. Even if you give a crash course on the law involved in the trial, they will never understand it all. And that doesn't even begin to address technical subjects.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2019 @ 7:05pm

        Re: Re:

        My trust is limited to one instance only: If the powerful want you, they will get you through it. Any actual Justice is either an accident, the cheapest option persueable or a desperate attempt to please an awakened bear. The actual law is no different. All of it is crafted and judged by the incompetent.

        The simplest fact to sum it all up is this: To have a well functioning democracy, the People must rule with intelligence, and the vast majority of the US simply isn't intelligent. That should have been obvious by the short attention span and desperate attempts to educate the populis every damn time something comes up. Oh well, I'm sure the next empire will fall for the same fate.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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