Pop hit-makers Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke will be forced to pay millions for their popular 2013 chart-topping song “Blurred Lines.”
A jury found on Tuesday that the duo was guilty of copyright infringement because the song bares too much of a resemblance to the classic 1977 Marvin Gaye hit “Got to Give it Up.” The eight-person panel decided the musicians must pay $7.3 million to the estate of the late singer. T.I., who appears as guest rapper on the song, was not found liable. The children of Gaye, who launched the suit, had previously reached a settlement with EMI, the company that released the song.
Ever since the controversy began, Williams and Thicke, who both appear on the track, have maintained that they never intentionally ripped off the Gaye song and that any similarity was purely coincidental.
“Sometimes when you look back on your past work, you see echoes of people,” Williams testified in court earlier this month. “But that doesn’t mean that’s what you were doing.”
The song was an enormous success in the U.S., eventually getting certified six times platinum. Experts in the trial estimate that it grossed at least $16.6 million from its sales, with Thicke and Williams each pocketing about $5 million each. It also inspired its fair share of parodies and criticism over its uncensored music video (which features topless models) and its lyrics, which many feminists argued condoned sexual assault.
Thicke and Williams have both consistently stood by the song and video, calling their intent tongue-in-cheek.
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this,’” Thicke told GQ in May 2013.
He added: “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’”
Despite the runaway success of the single, the biggest of Thicke’s career, he’s been unable to replicate its success. After a very public split with wife actress Paula Patton, Thicke’s follow-up album flopped critically and commercially.
Meanwhile, both Thicke and Williams have expressed regret that they’ve been drawn into a high-profile clash with the Gaye estate. Gaye was “one of the ones we look up to,” Williams testified last week. “This is the last place I want to be.”
Their attorney Howard King admitted he was “disappointed” by the decision but also did not rule out an appeal.
“The makers of Rayon better watch their backs for claims from the creators of Silk. Same feel, different components. Record labels are going to be even more reluctant to finance new music that remotely resembles the style, genre or groove of existing music,” King told msnbc via email on Tuesday. Thicke and Williams had preemptively sued the Gaye estate back when allegations of plagiarism were first made. The family eventually counter-sued and two years later they have emerged victorious.
Apparently, the controversy was benefiting the Gaye family even before the jury reached its decision. The Wrap reported that sales of “Got to Give It Up” shot up 94% during the first week of the trial.
“They started this fight, and we ended it,” Gaye family attorney Richard Busch told reporters Tuesday. “The jury saw through everything, and we’re very pleased.” Busch later filed an injunction to stop the sale of the song.
Nona Gaye, the late Motown legend’s daughter, reportedly broke down in tears because her father, who was murdered 31 years ago, “couldn’t be there.”
“Right now, I feel free from Pharrell Williams’ and Robin Thicke’s chains that they tried to keep on us and the lies that they told,” Nona Gaye told the press. “This was a miracle.”