How do we define originality in art? The case of “Blurred Lines” and “Got to give it up”

Recently, a jury ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell were guilty of copyright infringement with the song, “Blurred Lines.” The jury ruled that the song too closely resembled Marvin Gaye’s song, “Got to give it up.”

You can have a listen for yourself with this youtube video that compares the two songs.

This verdict set off a wave of criticism about the ruling for a variety of reasons but putting aside the legal issues, this case raises some interesting questions about art. How do we define originality in art? How do we define copying? At what point has an artist crossed an ethical line? Or in this case, blurred the line between originality and copying? Does the fear of legal action stifle artists’ creativity?

Here’s an article that ties the changing sound of hip hop to the increasing cost of sampling beats and the increased fear of lawsuit.

Here are a couple of links to articles about the recent controversy.

1. What’s Wrong With the ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Ruling

“In the current context, this imitation is a more meaningful sort of infringement than what’s at play in the “Blurred Lines” case, but contemporary copyright law would seem to have less to offer a creator like DJ Mustard, whose bailiwick is everything but the notes. Like him, whole generations of songwriters may remain vulnerable, their innovations implicitly less valuable because no one’s figured out how to adequately write them down.”

2.Why the “Blurred Lines” Copyright Verdict Should Be Thrown Out

“There is no question that Pharrell was inspired by Gaye and borrowed from him; he has freely admitted as much. But, by that standard, every composer would be a lawbreaker. The question is not whether Pharrell borrowed from Gaye but whether Gaye owned the thing that was borrowed. And this is where the case falls apart. For it was not any actual sequence of notes that Pharrell borrowed, but rather the general style of Gaye’s songs. That is why ‘Blurred Lines’ sounds very much like a Marvin Gaye song. But to say that something ‘sounds like’ something else does not amount to copyright infringement.”

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