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$7 Million Verdict Blurs The Lines On Music Sampling

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$7 Million Verdict Blurs The Lines On Music Sampling

Music

$7 Million Verdict Blurs The Lines On Music Sampling

$7 Million Verdict Blurs The Lines On Music Sampling

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A jury concluded that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke must pay over $7 million to Marvin Gaye's heirs for copying his music. Audie Cornish asks what this mean for music in the age of sampling.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Two summers ago, you couldn't escape the Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams song "Blurred Lines" - nor could the songwriters escape the comparisons to the 1977 Marvin Gaye hit "Got To Give It Up."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT TO GIVE IT UP")

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) I used to go out to parties and stand around.

CORNISH: Yesterday, a jury ruled that the "Blurred Lines" songwriters did rip off key elements of Marvin Gaye's song and ordered them to pay some $7.4 million to his family. The case has been a stunner for the music industry. And here to talk more about the decision is Pamela Chelin. She's an entertainment and court reporter who covered the trial for TheWrap. Welcome to the program.

PAMELA CHELIN: Hi, thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So this isn't the first case of its kind, right? What set it apart?

CHELIN: What set this case apart from others is that it actually went to trial. Often, they settle beforehand. And there was a fame quotient on both sides of the case.

CORNISH: So Pamela, help us understand exactly what the jurors had to figure out here. Is it that the songs were the exact same? Is it certain, you know, chorus lines or instrumentation? Like, what were they looking for?

CHELIN: Everything came into play from basslines to notes to words. Each side had a musicologist to testify basically to what they wanted said. Hopefully, these are impartial people. And the jury was able to listen to a modified version of "Got To Give It Up" and the actual version of "Blurred Lines." And then overall, they have to decide if there's a preponderance of evidence that the songs do seem similar, but they don't have to be an exact copy.

CORNISH: And you mentioned a modified version of the Marvin Gaye song. Why a modified version?

CHELIN: The judge didn't allow the commercial sound recording of "Got To Give It Up" to be used as admissible evidence in the case. So therefore, he allowed a version of it, which was modified and only had the elements that the Gayes actually owned, which is in the sheet music, but not the commercial sound recording.

CORNISH: So you were actually comparing the parts that the Gaye family actually laid a claim to to the "Blurred Lines" entire song.

CHELIN: Absolutely.

CORNISH: And you talked about the fame quotient of this witness list, right?

CHELIN: Right.

CORNISH: I mean, what was it like - this parade of figures in court?

CHELIN: The most interesting part of the proceedings for me were the day when Robin actually played a medley on the keyboard - and he went from The Beatles to Bob Marley to U2 - because it kind of seem like a non-court day. It was also kind of amusing when "Blurred Lines" would get played in court, because some of the language you can't believe is actually being played out loud in a courtroom. And some of the testimony - Pharrell had a palpable tension between him and the Gaye attorney, Richard Busch. And it did cause for some kind of electricity in the courtroom.

CORNISH: You know, "Blurred Lines" was also very controversial, right? The lyrics - people accused it of being kind of misogynistic and sexist. And Robin Thicke's career has definitely taken a dive since. I mean, is that the end of it for this song?

CHELIN: It may possibly well be the end of "Blurred Lines." The Gayes' attorney - are going to file papers so that the song "Blurred Lines" cannot be sold anymore. And the attorney for the Gaye family did point out to Robin that his next record, "Paula," basically was a failure. And, of course, Robin took great offense to that.

CORNISH: Give us a sense of the reaction from the music industry. I mean, how big a deal is this turning out to be?

CHELIN: Right now, everybody's saying it's a big deal, but it's hard to know because right now, the whole media is paying attention to this case because it just happened. I don't know that anything is going to change, but I do think record labels are going to be more careful if they spot any similarities between their artists' songs and an existing art. And I also think they're going to advise their artists not to say they were inspired by other artists lest they risk a copyright infringement lawsuit.

CORNISH: Pamela Chelin, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CHELIN: Thank you.

CORNISH: Pamela Chelin is an entertainment and court reporter. She covered the "Blurred Lines" trial for the TheWrap.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT TO GIVE IT UP")

GAYE: (Singing) All the young ladies are so fine. You're movin' your body easy with no doubts. I know what you thinkin' baby. You want to turn me out.

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