Why The "Blurred Lines" Lawsuit Won't Affect Pharrell's Reputation, But Should

Photo: MediaPunch/REX USA.
UPDATE: Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams will appeal the decision ordering them to pay nearly $7.4 million to Marvin Gaye's family in a copyright infringement case, according to Fox Business News. Thicke, Williams, and their lawyer Howard E. King believe the verdict would negatively affect the music industry, especially songwriters. 

"We owe it to songwriters around the world to make sure this verdict doesn't stand," King told Fox Business News yesterday. "My clients know that they wrote the song 'Blurred Lines' from their hearts and souls and no other source."


This story was originally published on March 12: 
The year-long copyright infringement battle between Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke, and Marvin Gaye's family was put to rest on Tuesday. A federal jury ordered "Blurred Lines" songwriters Williams and Thicke to pay nearly $7.4 million in damages to Gaye's family, as their smash hit noticeably ripped off the 1977 legendary hit "Got to Give It Up." Now, Gaye’s family is seeking to stop future sales of the controversial song. The similarities between the two tunes are undeniable, although it seems Williams and Thicke stand firm on the originality and ethics of the song.

In a joint statement with Thicke and T.I., Williams explained why the songwriting team disagrees with the ruling. "While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward," the statement reads. "'Blurred Lines' was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin, and T.I., and not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options, and you will hear more from us soon about this matter."

Between the controversial music video for "Blurred Lines" and Thicke's erratic behavior over the past year, he's already lost the respect of many. But, Williams is an internationally celebrated artist. As such, he’ll most likely go unscathed from this debacle. His crime against the music industry will be swept under the rug. Despite the fact that he was found guilty, there are no signs that his renowned reputation or future ability to make records will take a hit.
Williams is a music industry veteran — he produced his first song 22 years ago. He and Chad Hugo make up the record production duo The Neptunes, and have produced numerous hit singles for artists like Jay Z, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Daft Punk, and Bruno Mars. Over the past 12 years, Williams has earned 11 Grammys — including a nomination for Single of the Year for "Blurred Lines." More importantly, his career is replete with song sampling.

In 1992, Williams was one of 10 writers as well as a producer on the hip-hop hit "Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-N-Effect. The song is built on five song samples including "Darkest Light" by Lafayette Afro Rock Band (1972), "I Like It" by DeBarge (1982), "Midnight Theme" by Manzel (1979), "Godfather Runnin' the Joint" by James Brown (1988) and "Blues and Pants" (1971), also by Brown. That's just one early example of countless others in Williams' vast catalog.

Music, like all other art forms is cyclical. Sampling is common and has been for years. Depending on how the original tracks are sampled — legality being of the utmost importance — the new tunes can be beautiful expressions of creativity and provide a refreshing form of music discovery. From the Beatles to M.I.A, some of the most notable artists have included samples from their predecessors. 
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It's important to note that Williams is not the only artist who's come under scrutiny for copyright infringement. Recently, Sam Smith agreed to pay Tom Petty an undisclosed sum for his hit "Stay With Me," which closely resembles the 1989 Petty classic, "I Won't Back Down." But, for some reason Pharrell Williams is unable to see his mistake and right his wrongs — even though a court sided with Gaye's family. 

He came close during the trial. "I must have been channeling that feeling, that late-'70s feeling," Williams testified. But, when asked by his lawyer if he copied "Got To Give It Up," he said no. He proceeded to admit that "Blurred Lines" had the same feel of the Motown hit — but "not infringement."

One would think that a seasoned and extremely talented artist would be able to recognize when they've sampled a song unethically. Pharrell's refusal to see as much is disappointing. His lawyer asked the court, "Why would Mr. Williams need to copy anyone to create a hit?" It's a great question. 
Over the course of his career, Williams has received significant praise for his work, and rightfully so. According to Billboard’s Reggie Ugwu, if Williams dropped out of the music industry after producing The Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury (2006), he still would've been "one of the most important producers of the last decade." During a collaboration on NBC's The VoiceLionel Richie stated that Williams is one of the very few people to understand "the songwriting, the sensitivity and the feel" of making music. Such accolades don't warrant a pass however, for stealing another artist's music, especially one who paved the way for him.

Marvin Gaye, also known as the Prince of Motown and Soul, was an R&B and soul maven. Winner of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and an inductee to the Rhythm and Blues as well as the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, he has influenced — whether or not they’d like to admit, although most do — every artist that shares the same genres today. He produced brilliance. He broke barriers. He touched lives. Even in his absence, he deserves recognition. 
We need to hear an admission, an apology.

Ironically Williams has had no trouble discussing his favorite artists like Stevie Wonder, The Gap Band, and Earth, Wind & Fire, and how they've influenced him and his artistry in the past. And, he's been very clear that he doesn't think of himself as a creative genius. 

"A genius denotes someone who knows a lot on their own — self contained. And, I'm not. All of my work is a direct reaction to meeting all these very interesting people with whom I've collaborated. I've learned much about their processes and who they were, and their vibes have inspired me," he said in an interview with HipHopDX last year.

"In that case, I could not take authorship for my path. I know that I've elected to take some of the choices, turns and the direction that I've taken. But, I know at the same time, there are these integral people in our lives from time to time who come in, give us direction and guide us. They tell us which way to go, and those are the people I feel like are just as much...they share authorship for all of my successes."

Yet Williams still refuses to share the wild success of "Blurred Lines" with Marvin Gaye. He's being greedy. His success — including the accolades his latest album GIRL (2013) has received, highly regarded performances at the Oscar and Grammy Awards, as well as monumental support from viewers and contestants on The Voice — have not been interrupted. They indicate that apart from losing some money (of which he has plenty), Williams will not be penalized for his careless actions.

This year, while the case was open, Williams was continuing his career, making new music. His latest project is a collaboration with rapper Snoop Dogg. The two put together Snoop's new album Bush, set to be released in May, and they're both excited. "It's a great record me and Pharrell did from top to bottom," Snoop told MTV News. "It feels good, and I'm happy to be back in the studio working with one of my favorite producers and homeboys. It's different — it's completely different than anything we've ever done. It feels good, sounds good, looks good."

There's just one issue, the first single on the album is called "Peaches N' Cream" (remember that 112 song?). Granted the two tunes are only similar in title, but still, Pharrell you've got to give it up and get it together, if only for the sake of those who look up to you. You've been a great example for aspiring musicians over the years, don't stop now.