What Does The Blurred Lines Verdict Mean For Artist And Producers?
As of now, most of us throughout the music industry have heard about the decision handed down by a Los Angeles jury ordering artist/songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay a hefty 7.3 million dollars to the Marvin Gaye family for copyright infringement. While the verdict will most like be appealed, the question lies for many artist and producers: Can we be sued for infringement for creating records/songs inspired by our favorite artist/producers/songwriters?
If this verdict is to stand, the short answer may be, Yes.
It’s All In The “Feel”
The issue arose from the similarities in the 2013 smash “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”. As Pharrell Williams argued, the songs share the same “feel” but musically it isn’t infringement. As part of platinum production team Arkatech Beatz, we’ve had our share of woes with copyrights. While this particular case didn’t involve samples (which we will cover), this verdict can potentially change how some records are made.
Typically, a replay of a record would still warrant clearing with the songwriters/publishers, but never have we seen anyone held liable for records containing the same rhythmic “feel”/vibe. The implications of this can create a situation where potential lawsuits run rampant, as artist/songwriters/producers sometimes fuse records with ideas from artist that inspired them.
There have been many of occasions where your favorite artists are looking for a record that has the same “feel” of whatever record is popular at the time. Or they are looking for a record with a similar “feel” of a record that motivated them in times past. Will these types of records now be subject to possible lawsuits? What about producers who use similar sounds/virtual instruments to recreate the popular sound of today to remain relevant? Additionally, if an artist/songwriter/producer is sued, should there be a ceiling on how much of the song will be awarded?
Turn Off Your Radio
In certain aspects the Blurred Lines verdict may help change the current climate of the music industry and force artist to be more creative and not chase the most popular sound on radio. Maybe, it’s time to turn off the radio and draw from our core of musical art and create from a blank original canvas of self. It may be that time to not rely so heavily on music that influenced us, to help usher in a new wave of creativity in music.
Sample at Your Own Risk
While the verdict wasn’t about not clearing a sample, it is an area within this conversation which needs to be addressed. The verdict may be a precursor to larger awards being paid for records that are being sampled. It light of that, what should artists/songwriters/producers do? There’s nothing worse than sampling a record, programing drums, playing instruments on top of it, writing lyrics etc, and having the original copyright owner take up to 100% of a records earnings. Maybe the answer is to move away from sampling altogether, or use royalty free sampling options to avoid the risk of litigation.
Whether you’re inspired by your favorite artist, or just digging in the crates, artists/songwriters/producers beware. The dynamics of making records are again changing, and your very source of musical inspiration can cost you. Let’s do our best to remain creative and push the envelope of originality. The future of the music industry as we know it may depend on it.
Jugrnaut is part of production duo Arkatech Beatz (formerly known as The Infinite Arkatechz). Arkatech Beatz are a Grammy nominated hip-hop production team from New York now based in Atlanta. They were affiliated with Loud Records/Sony Music Entertainment as A&R’s and have produced for artists such as Big Pun, Nas, Raekwon, Jadakiss, The Game, Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Scrappy, Killer Mike, Shawty Lo, Mýa, Alley Boy, Max B and others. The team consists of Jugrnaut & Mike “Trauma” D .