Marvin Gaye vs Robin Thicke – Blurred Copyright Lines?

We take a break from more typical weighty matters with a lighter story for the weekend.

There’s a bizarre and public music copyright jousting match going on, which raises a few questions:
Who’s in the right?  And has the very public legal wrangling damaged either party’s brand?  YOU be the judge!   You’ll need to invest about 20 seconds (below).

Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye









The Song of the Summer of 2013 was Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke.*- it’s a catchy party tune, complete with the standard provocative lyrics and misogynistic video.  If you’re under 20 you’ve heard it at least 500 times.
*Alan Thicke’s son.  Their career arcs have definitely crossed.

Here’s the catch:  many people who heard Blurred Lines heard a strong similarity to Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up  (1977).  The Estate of Marvin Gaye (he died in 1984) sure did, and made a legal claim that the similarity was too close.

Gayes strike first:  The Gaye Estate notified Robin Thicke’s lawyers and preemptively offered that if “…plaintiffs do not pay a monetary settlement of the Gayes’ claim, the Gayes intend to initiate litigation for copyright infringement against plaintiffs.”

Thicke’s camp responds, with a polite lawsuit: “Plaintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye…reluctantly file this action…The suit requests legal confirmation that “there are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the (Gayes) allege they own”.”

In other words, Marvin Gaye’s heirs claim they’ve been ripped off and want damages; Robin Thicke’s lawyers want a judge to confirm that this similarity doesn’t constitute infringement.

Because of the players involved, this otherwise mundane dust-up has garnered intense 24/7 global media coverage, with one result being you will have a hard time finding these videos online (but I’ve found them for you).

More to the point, it would seem that this increasingly public legal activity would undercut the appealing image that any musical artist strives for, and that this would harm their brand and consequently their ability to make money.
– so there’s 2 questions:  was Marvin Gaye ripped off, and will this harm either Gaye’s or Thicke’s brand?

Listen to just the first 10-15 seconds of each song, starting with Blurred Lines (below) and see what you think.

I found Blurred Lines starting at :40 on this outtake from Jimmy Kimmel:

Got To Give it Up can be sampled here:

SO – – Was Marvin Gaye ripped off?

My opinion:  The two songs’ similarity is striking and unmistakable.   But while I personally have great regard for Gaye’s genius (if not his personal conduct), it doesn’t seem that recreating a 35-year old beat should constitute infringement.

Will this hurt the images of either artist to the extent that they’ll suffer a financial impact?

NO!  Of course not!!  Trick question!

Their brands would be damaged if anyone in their fan base noticed or cared, and neither is going on here.

Robin Thicke’s fans don’t watch/listen to the news and almost certainly have never heard of Marvin Gaye.  This will not make one iota of difference.  Lawsuits are boring grownup stuff.

From the Marvin Gaye standpoint, there are now a lot of people listening to his music as a result of this skirmish, which has probably revived music sales.  And if his personal brand has survived coverage to date, it can definitely survive this.  No harm, no foul.

Net, this is an interesting event to watch unfold, but solely for the amusement factor.   Have a good weekend.


4 responses »

  1. Dave—Great post! What an entertaining debate. Gaye’s team was very smart to raise the issue even if they won’t win; you have to defend your brand.



  2. thanks – fun! I think it isn’t a rip-off. The rhythm sure is the same, but the melody is sufficiently different (chord prog) that they’re different songs. Anyway, thanks again for last night – the food, the hosting, and for teaching Michael guitar stuff. Also, the coffee was great, even if I did rip on the machine being slow. Good things require patience! jim

      847-409-8228 mobile



  3. I certainly don’t think it’s a rip off. It’s no question that Robin Thicke’s brand can survive this little incident. It has introduced him to an entire new audience who will likely purchase the entire CD on iTunes now. The real question is this: Can Robin Thicke’s brand survive the Miley Cyrus performance and her foam finger.


  4. Pingback: I Know, It’s Only Rock ’n Roll, but… | The Armchair MBA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: