The highly-anticipated “Blurred Lines” copyright trial got underway Tuesday in a downtown Los Angeles federal courtroom, and the proceedings lived up to expectations.
Superstar musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were present at the proceedings that will decide whether their Grammy-nominated song ripped off R&B legend Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give It Up.”
“I’m not drunk on vodka or high on cocaine or Vicodin,” said attorney Howard King. He is representing Thicke, Williams and Clifford Harris Jr. (professionally known as rapper T.I.) in the copyright infringement lawsuit filed against them by Gaye’s children Nona, Frankie and Marvin III who allege “Blurred Lines,” released in 2013, directly infringes upon Marvin Gaye’s song.
King’s unusual remarks were in response to Gaye family attorney Richard Busch’s earlier statements to the jury regarding Thicke’s alleged claims that he was high on Vicodin and drunk on vodka during his interviews when he professed his love of and inspiration from Gaye.
While the Gaye children and the late singer’s ex-wife Jan, who contributed vocals to “Got to Give It Up,” were all present in court Tuesday, T.I. was not. Although Williams started off the day looking serious and somber, he seemed to lighten up and was often spotted smiling and exchanging glances with Thicke.
In his opening statements, attorney Busch warned the jury that Williams and Thicke are influential “well known stars,” who, when they take the stand to testify, “Will wink at you and they’ll be charming. But keep one thing in mind. They are professional performers.”
While Busch contended that revenue earned from “Blurred Lines” is approximately $40 million, King said the song has generated nothing close to that amount and had actually languished for months, claiming the label had not invested in promoting it and that it was only when the videos were made (one is unrated due to its nudity) that they exploded on the Internet causing the song to chart overseas. Only then, said King, did the label put approximately $3 million into marketing and promoting the song. King also said, using Motown as one of his examples of a vast genre, that “no one owns a genre or a groove.”
As the video to “Blurred Lines” was played in court, Williams and Thicke could be seen grooving along to the tune while seated in their chairs while Gaye’s children watched the video without expression. Jan Gaye seemed to concertedly look away from the footage with a grim expression spread across her face.
At one point, Busch played an instrumental excerpt from “Blurred Lines” with Gaye’s vocals on top to try and prove the similarity of the songs. Thicke just shook his head in disgust and quietly muttered, “It doesn’t work.” King pointed out that you could mash up almost any song and force it to work.
Ultimately, Busch told the jury, “The evidence will show ‘Got to Give It Up’ was used as a blueprint for ‘Blurred Lines.'” He said the song’s similarities are “not random” and that they were “deliberately selected.” However, King said, “They didn’t copy Marvin Gaye. They created the song as they have for the other hundreds of songs they’ve written,” adding that neither had been previously sued for copyright infringement.
Another issue in the case involves Thicke and his former wife, Paula Patton, with whom he co-wrote the single “Love After War,” released in 2011, which, the Gayes contend, infringes upon Marvin Gaye’s 1976 song “After the Dance.”
Worth noting is that the Gayes own Marvin Gaye’s sheet music compositions, but not the sound recordings. King says the Gayes hired a musicologist, who was paid $200,000 who did not even consult the sheet music.
As for the “Blurred Lines” songwriting credits, Williams owns 65 percent, Thicke has 22 percent and T.I. owns the remaining 13 percent.
The trial continues Wednesday at 8:30 am with Jan Gaye and Thicke scheduled to testify. It is expected to last approximately eight days.
The case could potentially be worth millions of dollars in damages for the Gaye family.