Since a jury ruled yesterday that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' hit "Blurred Lines" infringed on Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," there's been much handwringing that the decision "sets a bad precedent" for the music industry, opening artists up to legal action simply for being inspired by the work of their predecessors. A representative for Thicke and Williams, unsurprisingly, led the charge.
"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 rep said in a prepared statement to BuzzFeed News last night. "'Blurred Lines' was created from the heart and minds of Pharrell, Robin and T.I. and not taken from anyone or anywhere else."
But whether or not you side with the "Blurred Lines" artists or the Gaye Family, it's hard to argue that this verdict will have any meaningful impact on the way copyright issues are handled in the music industry going forward — either privately or before the courts. That's in part because there's nothing in an individual jury case that can legally be brought to bear on other cases.
"This doesn't change much, legally speaking, for anyone but the parties involved," says Paul Fakler, a veteran copyright lawyer who has represented The Allman Brothers Band and the National Music Publishers Association. "Is it going to bring the music industry to its knees? Certainly not."
Fakler says jury verdicts, like the one reached in the "Blurred Lines" case, are generally hard to parse and leave nothing that can be cited in future lawsuits. Had the case resulted a summary judgement, there would have been a ruling from the judge evaluating the competing arguments of both sides, which other people would then analyze and interpret. But that wasn't the case here.
"It's not binding on any future case," Fakler says. "There's nothing that came out of this verdict that is going to be cited in another case or presented to another jury dealing with a different set of songs. It's easy to overstate the impact that this one verdict is going to have."
While the "Blurred Lines" verdict doesn't make musicians any more or less likely to be found guilty of copyright infringement in the rare event that a case makes it to trial (every case is different, and there were a variety of factors — including, for starters, interview statements and court testimony — that could have led the jury to rule against Thicke and Co.), it could lead to a rise in infringement claims from songwriters looking for a payout. But Fakler says even this isn't likely to be a longterm issue.
"Claims of copying have always been very common — they happen with almost every hit song," he says. "Might this temporarily make it easier for a songwriter to hire a contingency lawyer and push the envelope a little bit? Sure. But these things have a way of normalizing over time."