A group of musicians that includes John Oates of Hall & Oates, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Rikki Rocket of Poison has filed an amicus brief in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and TI to overturn a $5.3 million judgement in the so-called “Blurred Lines” case, Williams et al. v. Gaye et al.

The musicians argue:

Many important popular songs in the modern era would not exist today if they were subjected to the same scrutiny as “Blurred Lines” was in this case. Allowing this judgment to stand, based upon such factors – with no similarities in melody, with virtually no similarities with the music notation on the actual deposit copy, and simply based on a “groove,” would clearly stifle future creativity, would undoubtedly diminish the legacies of past songwriters, and, without a doubt, would be antithetical to the principals of the Copyright Act.

This is important, not just because it is right, but also because of who it’s coming from. While you will hear my colleagues at R Street point out that overly broad copyright laws can hurt creativity, it’s relatively rare – as Ali Sternberg observes at DisCo — to see rights-holder groups making that same argument.

As R Street commented when the verdict first came down, “rock history is replete with allegations of one popular tune cribbed, intentionally or unintentionally from an earlier song.” What makes this case so unique – as the artists note – is there was no sharing in the sequence of pitches, rhythms or chords, nor do they have a similar melody or even a single common melodic phrase. They do not even share two similar chords. The song structures are entirely different and not a single lyric is shared. The case was ruled on “groove” or “feel.”

R Street’s R.J. Lehmann even went as far as to break down the construction,

Blurred Lines” is in the key of G and its basic chord progression over eight bars is GGGGDDDD. “Got to Give It Up” is in the key of A, and its progression is basically just AAAAAAAA. They’re both 4/4 at 120 beats per minute, but that’s true of an overwhelming proportion of the popular canon, as well.

Unlike the opening brief filed by Williams’ attorney earlier this month, which tracks the technical intricacies of the differences between the two songs, this brief focuses on the chilling affect the judgement may have on the music industry.

By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible Inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is.

The artists are advocating for standards in copyright-infringement cases, in this case, between artists. Ultimately, they are the group most affected by this ruling. And if judgements may be made on the “feel” or “groove” of two songs, the entire music industry will be trouble. Not to mention that it would destroy country music as we know it…

Now that one group of musicians have filed, let’s hope that others who know the importance of drawing inspiration from those that came before them will begin to weigh in in support of Williams, and against an overly broad interpretation of copyright that undermines creativity rather than promoting it.

Photo by Anthony Mooney / Shutterstock.com

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