Blurring the lines of copyright infringement

19th March 2015

Last week's ruling that Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams' Blurred Lines had infringed the 1977 Marvin Gaye song Got to Give It Up, albeit unintentionally, highlights how easily works can be interpreted as an infringement of copyright.

The ruling concluded there were eight similar elements to the songs, and awarded $7.4 million in damages to Gaye's children. This is the highest amount ever awarded for a case of this type, making it a record breaking ruling in favour of the Gaye family. The children are now also seeking to take a percentage of on-going sales of the song.

In the UK, similar rulings include Sam Smith who last year reached a harmonious settlement with Tom Petty over coincidental similarities between his award winning Stay With Me and Petty's I Won't Back Down. Petty was awarded a 12.5% song writing credit and royalties, and his name was short listed on the song's credits before Stay With Me won Record of the Year at this year's Grammys.

But should artists such as Smith and Thicke be penalised from taking inspiration from previous artists? The ruling has been described as a 'horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward'. Or is it just and proper to award damages to the people who it is deemed rightfully own their work?

To infringe a person's work, you simply have to use it without their permission. Copyright is an exclusive right to a particular work, in which the owners have the right to control the reproduction of their work - this includes the right to receive payment for that reproduction. So it is not just high profile musicians who may be subject to copyright infringement; a simple 'copy and paste' from a website or using an image downloaded from the internet, could potentially lead to the copyright owners seeking damages.

If you have any questions about your risks of copyright infringement, or believe your work is being copied, feel free to contact one of the members of the commercial team who will be happy to advise - 0845 111 5050.


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