Blurred Lines: Plagiarism in the Music Industry

Blurred Lines: Plagiarism in the Music Industry

Did Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams commit musical plagiarism? || Image source:


Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have had it rough over the past year or so. A major accusation of plagiarism has been thrown their way by the family of the late Marvin Gaye. In late 2013, Gaye’s family filed a lawsuit, claiming that Thicke and William’s hit song Blurred Lines plagiarized Marvin Gaye’s 1977 track Got to Give It Up.

Three of Marvin Gaye’s children filed papers accusing Thicke of “copyright infringement” with the demand of £100,000 in damages, as well as a portion of the profits from Blurred Lines. This seemed to be a response to Thicke and Williams’ claim in August 2013 where they asked a court to rule that Blurred Lines did not infringe the copyright of the late Gaye. More drama unfolded in September of 2014 when Thicke admitted to lying about co-writing the song, revealing that Pharrell Williams wrote practically all of it.

It may seem like big news, but plagiarism is hardly new in the music industry. People that have nothing to do with certain songs have been taking credit for said songs for decades. A recent book written by Simon Napier-Bell exposes stories of publishers, agents and DJs taking cuts of songs that they promoted. A notable example would be Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker gaining cuts of songs from songwriters if they agreed that Elvis record them himself.

Famous songwriting partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney also operated on something similar. The duo edited each other’s songs, but all ended up being listed as written by Lennon/McCartney. Bands such as U2 or Coldplay split credits equally, regardless of the actual scale of contribution by each member. To outsiders, it may seem unfair but the practice has proven to be quite beneficial. It is arguable that this is a reason why such bands have stuck together for so long.

It’s been recently reported that Marvin Gaye’s family has won a round in their court battle. The ruling of a US federal judge denying Thicke and Williams’ motion to reject the plagiarism accusations paves the way to head towards a celerity trial in Los Angeles in February. Regardless of the conclusion, the case only serves to make Blurred Lines even more controversial than it already it.

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