Pop culture and civil litigation recently merged in the news. A federal judge allowed Marvin Gaye’s family’s lawsuit against Robin Thicke, which claims that Blurred Lines infringes on the copyrights to Marvin’s After the Dance, to proceed to trial.
Before the judge allowed a trial to take place, both sides presented expert testimony from musicologists. They testified about signature phrases, hooks, bass lines, keyboard chords, harmonic structures and vocal melodies. (But arguments about the congruence of percussive choices were excluded.) Each side was trying to convince the judge that there was (or was not) enough there that a trial would be needed to decide the case.
On one hand, this is where the law may just get unnecessarily technical and complicated. I am no musician, but I listened to both songs back to back, and they’re just not the same, in my decidedly non-expert opinion. Arguments about harmonic structure seem nearly incongruous and out of place.
On the other hand, getting past personal feelings or impressions, in favor of a rational determination of disputes, is what the law is about. It beats shooting at each other at 20 paces, or so think we as a society.
It also underscores once again the dedication and breadth of knowledge business owners, musical or not, should require of their attorneys.