Some More Clarity on the “Blurred Lines” Verdict and Why It’s Good

I’m not saying that the “Blurred Lines” verdict should make it impossible for genres to exist, or that artists won’t be able to record anything that vaguely sounds like something else.

We all know there is very little creativity that exists on its own island. Most ideas build on other ideas. The music businesses doesn’t need to reinvent itself every time an artist cuts a record.

What I’m talking about is a specific thing — songs that sound A LOT like other songs. Where there’s enough similarity between them where you’re almost forced to raise an eyebrow.

It’s not quite scientific at first, it’s just something you can hear. Two songs come on and you say, oh wow, that sounds like such and such. If that happens enough — it certainly happened enough in the “Blurred Lines” situation — then I think there’s probably an issue. It happens a lot.

It’s not like that dress, people don’t seem to be that confused about whether “Blurred Lines” really does sound a lot like “Got to Give It Up.”

You can’t hear these two songs back to back and not think one was directly influenced by the other. There’s something to that. Maybe enough to infringe on a copyright. Surely, a jury found that to the case.

But I get it.

For musicians — and for clarity’s sake, I’m a producer/songwriter, who actually makes money with music — the downside to Team Thicke losing this lawsuit is that it sets a precedent that songs that sound like other songs are susceptible to extra scrutiny and might even lead to legal penalties. And what constitutes a song sounding like another song is always up to interpretation.

The upside, which was my real point, was that maybe, just maybe, because of this extra scrutiny, artists could be forced to focus more on coloring outside the lines. That way, they avoid getting deliberately harangued.

Either way, I don’t think you’re going to see a slate of lawsuits getting doled out now, any more than lawsuits were already getting doled out. This was a high profile case involving a very disliked artist (Robin Thicke) vs. one of the most beloved artists of all time (Marvin Gaye), so it drew widespread attention.

But the reality is that lawsuits like this happen every day and nobody talks about them. They rarely go to trial because litigation is costly and few people want to go through all of that drama. It takes a lot to get a case like this in front of a jury.

So, could this happen more and more? Sure, but it’s not likely. But to be on the safe side, it wouldn’t hurt if artists did a little better and tried a little harder at coming up with newer, more progressive work. By doing that, all worries can cease and all this nonsense can be avoided.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.