By now, if you haven’t heard the song ‘Blurred Lines’ – the immensely successful collaboration between Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams which reached monolithic status in 2013 – then I hope your time on the moon proved to be relaxing and welcome back. In case you missed it, ‘Blurred Lines’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 consecutive weeks, became the second highest selling digital single of all time, and was nominated for two Grammy’s. It was kind of a big deal, to say the least.
It wasn’t all glory though. It attracted a lot of negative attention, mainly due to Robin Thicke filing a pre-emptive lawsuit against Marvin Gaye’s family regarding copyright infringement allegations. Long story short, it’s alleged that Thicke stole the idea for ‘Blurred Lines’ from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got To Give It Up’, which sounds like this:
Admittedly, the rhythm sections of the two songs do sound similar, and since the lawsuit was filed, it’s been revealed that Blurred Lines has made a whopping US $16.5 million in profits since its release, as reported by The Guardian, Thicke and Williams have been ordered to pay US$7.4 million to Gaye’s family. However, cases like these are nothing new. Another song that is currently on the verge of rivalling the success of ‘Blurred Lines’ is the infectiously catchy and seemingly omnipresent ‘Uptown Funk’, a collaboration by English producer Mark Ronson and American singer Bruno Mars.
There’s just one problem. There are elements of ‘Uptown Funk’ which sound a great deal like Rick James’ 1981 hit ‘Give It To Me Baby’.
There are two main differences between ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Uptown Funk’. Thicke still maintains that there is no similarity between his and Gaye’s work while Ronson’s entire album, The Uptown Special, is a clear homage to the greats of Motown and Funk.
So where do we draw the line between drawing inspiration or paying our respect, and blatantly ripping off a fellow artist? If we were to scratch the surface of every song currently in the charts, would many turn out to be unoriginal, near cut copies of past hits? It’s undoubtedly comforting to delve in nostalgia, appreciate that music can be cyclical and draw ideas from classics. But at the rate and extent that it’s been happening lately, it can be seen as a sign of defeat by major artists and labels, and quite demoralising to think that it’s all been done before and there’s nothing new to add. The big question is, where is the line when it comes to music makers and originality?
At the end of the day, as music is an art form, there is inevitably going to be moments when artists influence and borrow ideas from each other, and for the most part it’s done in a respectful and tasteful manner. But it seems that once serious money starts rolling in, the fine line between inspiration and plagiarism becomes increasingly blurred.