‘Blurred Lines’ Trial Reveals Pharrell Williams-Robin Thicke Song Made $16.6 Million

Williams and Thicke earned over $5 million each; T.I. earned over $700,000; Interscope Records, Universal Music Group and Williams’ label Star Trak split the remainder

Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke perform at Walmart 2014 annual shareholders meeting, 6/6/14 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Walmart)
Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke perform at Walmart's annual shareholders' meeting on June 6, 2014 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Walmart)

Experts in the “Blurred Lines” trial agreed on a dollar-figure in excess of $16.6 million in earnings for the song, which is the subject of a copyright dispute between the family of deceased R&B singer Marvin Gaye and singer-songwriters Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and Clifford Harris Jr. (professionally known as rapper T.I.).

Gaye’s children Nona, Frankie and Marvin III contend that the 2013 song and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” are so similar that the family is owed a hefty percentage of the song’s earnings.

Nancie Stern, vice president of Quincy Jones‘ music publishing business and a 30-year music-industry veteran who specializes in rights clearance, testified for the Gaye parties that the two songs were substantially similar in melody, keyboards and bass lines, and in the instrumentation surrounding the melody.

Stern estimated that if “Got to Give It Up” had been licensed for use for “Blurred Lines” that the songwriters would likely have been required to give up 50-percent ownership of the song.

Representing the “Blurred Lines” songwriters, attorney Howard King wryly pointed out that, given that the sheet music (and not its commercial sound recording) for “Got to Give It Up” is central to this trial, it was interesting that Stern found no similarities between both songs’ crowd noise, hi-hats or falsettos, all of which were not in the sheet music.

“Luckily, you picked out only elements in the sheet music,” King said.

Before the Gaye parties wrapped up their case Tuesday morning, they called several other witnesses to the stand.

Accountant Gary Cohen, who specializes in music royalty matters, testified briefly saying that if the court determined that the Gayes owned a 50-percent stake in “Blurred Lines,” they would be entitled to both “mechanical royalties,” which are paid to a publisher for record sales, and to “performance rights,” money earned when a song is performed live.

Both sides’ attorneys told the court that they had arrived at a stipulation, which was read to the jury by Judge John Kronstadt and said that the song “Blurred Lines” earned $16,675,690 so far, with Thicke and Williams both earning over $5 million each, while T.I. earned over $700,000 and Interscope Records, Universal Music Group and Star Trak (Pharrell Williams‘ label) split the remainder.

One issue that has been raised in the trial is whether or not overhead costs should be added to the sum, which the Gayes favor. In addition, they want a portion of Thicke’s tour earnings of close to $12 million. As to the publishing revenue, Stern said the sum was over $8 million and that the Gayes would be entitled to over $4 million if found to be 50-percent owner.

The Gayes then rested their case.

The “Blurred Lines” parties opened theirs by calling Universal Music Group Senior VP of Finance Jason Scott Gallien to the stand to break down overhead costs — salaries, travel, insurances, federal taxes and on. Gallien testified that the lifespan of a record is typically 18 months, when it comes to “working it in the marketplace.” In deposition testimony played for the court, Gallien testified that 9.6 percent of Universal Music Group’s overhead, amounting to over $6.5 million, was allocated to “Blurred Lines.”

While last week, the Gayes’ music expert, Judith Finell, had testified that the songs bore substantial similarities, the “Blurred Lines” parties’ music expert, Sandy Wilbur, testified Tuesday that she does not find the songs to be “meaningfully similar.” Wilbur outlined categories including structure, harmonic patterns, lyrics, melodic area and rhythm. She pointed out that the structure of “Blurred Lines” — intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, rap, verse, chorus is a “very, very common format for a song.” She also talked about T.I’s rap, saying that it’s equally common for a song to have a “break or rap,” which is often used to put something different into a song, providing it with a unique twist apart from its prominent melodies.

Wilbur testified that lyrically there are no consecutive words in the songs that are the same and that the words in common, which can be found in the break/rap of each song, are common words such as “up,” “down” and “round” that would not fall under copyright protection.

Wilbur, who played many parts of each song on a keyboard for the court, went into great detail with her musical analysis.

“In fact,” she testified, “they’re really different songs.”

Thicke and Williams were absent from court for the second day in a row, on day four at the trial, which is taking place in a federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. Nona, Frankie and Jan (non-party) Gaye were present, while Marvin III was not.

T.I. has yet to make an appearance at the trial, though he and Williams are expected to take the witness stand when court resumes Wednesday, March 4, at 8:30 a.m. The Thicke parties are expected to wrap up their case that same day, while both sides are expected to present closing arguments Thursday, when the jury instructions will be delivered.