Setting Terrible Legal Precedents Just To Hammer on People We Don't Like

First, we got FCC title II regulation of the Internet because a lot of people hate Comcast and saw net neutering as the perfect way to stick it to Comcast.  Now, we get a terrible copyright precedent because people don't like Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke.

The Internet appeared to rejoice that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke lost their lawsuit to the estate of Marvin Gaye over alleged copyright infringements in their mega hit song "Blurred Lines." It's not that the notoriously copyright-unfriendly Internet culture found religion on intellectual property privileges but that the Internet doesn't seem to like Robin Thicke. Fair enough. But as a number of commentators have noted, it's a silly reason to support such an awful ruling. And that ruling is awful even if you believe in relatively expansive intellectual property rights because it wasn't based on any copyright Marvin Gaye's estate owns on paper....

As the author notes, are we going to soon have competing claims (and lawsuits) claiming origination of the four chord progression?


  1. Nimrod:

    I think we know that the average person does not think in terms of precedent or unintended consequences. The average person on the Internet is no better in this regard, and may in fact be worse if Reddit is any sort of representative indication of the average.

  2. Steve:

    Story [] where last October the DNC members of the FCC ruled that videos critical of Obama should be regulated by the FEC and they should be banned since they did not disclose their funding to the FEC. Vote split on a 3-3 vote, same 3 who voted for this were also voting for "Net Neutrality".

    I assume this will go the same as "Fairness Doctrine" did a few decades ago. Regulation of free speech according to "regulations" of the party in power.

    Many are suspecting that sites that post political things will need to register with the FEC or be banned, and that is why the "Net Neutrality" rules have not been released.

  3. Ike Pigott:

    Agreed. But this is still damned funny.

  4. obloodyhell:

    As with so many other segments of freedom, the government is totally out of control. Unfortunately, in this case, it's because the populace is stupid and wants it that way.

  5. Nehemiah:

    I had not seen the 4 chord son before. Thanks for sharing. It was very well done.

  6. Mercury:

    I think it’s more significant that this appears to be the first time a (successful) case like this wasn’t built around the melody and/or lyrics of a song.

    I don’t know how
    explicit or simply “understood” the actual law is on this but I suppose it
    doesn’t matter now.
    I guess when pop music is little more than rhythm and style there isn’t much else to “plagiarize”.

    Anyway, Jan and Dean, call your office.

    Thankfully, parody is still (for now) legally protected:

  7. kidmugsy:

    Four chords? The Blues makes do with three.

  8. mesaeconoguy:

    1 - 4 - 5 ain't bad.

  9. mesaeconoguy:

    This was the first high-profile musical plagiarism lawsuit –

    Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for the Ghostbusters movie theme song (same key & chord progression – even I noticed that as a budding youth guitarist). Read the rest – Parker later sued Huey Lewis.

    The highest profile musical plagiarism lawsuit extant is Spirit v. Led Zeppelin –

    Plaintiff contends that the iconic opening arpeggio of “Stairway to Heaven” was lifted from the Spirit track “Taurus.” Keep an eye on this one.

  10. mesaeconoguy:

    Just listened to it, and plaintiff definitely has a case. Identical tempo and modulation, minor phrasing differences. All artists steal from each other.

  11. Not Sure:

    What's the point of having a government that can hammer on people we don't like if we don't use it to hammer on people we don't like? Ignore, for the time being, that one day you might be the nail.

  12. marque2:

    It was kind of interesting. When I first heard about that lawsuit, I couldn't believe they were the same. But the back rhythm is identical. Apparently the studio was playing Huey Lewis songs, to the Ghostbuster folks, to try to encourage more Huey Lewis style hits for their own company, so it really wasn't much of an accident either.

    I think the first real big one, was George Harrison, with "My Sweet Lord," which he lost.

    There was also a Tom Petty and Sam Smith issue, but Petty and Lynne, settled for 12.5% of the royalties and co-credit for writing, which I think is the right way to go. Tom Petty didn't try to destroy Sam Smith for an honest mistake.

  13. jhertzli:

    Weird Al must be getting nervous.

  14. Dan Wendlick:

    Weird Al does get licenses to use the melodies, and usually gets the permission of the recording artist (who may not own the rights to the song) before recoding his parodies.

  15. Dan Wendlick:

    look up Fogerty v. Fantasy - John Fogerty was sued for writing a song that was too close to one he had previously written but no longer owned the publishing rights to.

  16. Mercury:

    But he doesn't have to. He probably does it to make it easier to get a cut of the original artist's royalties.

  17. Dan Wendlick:

    Yes, he does more than is strictly legally required. he has also had a 35+ year career in the pop music business and not been sued into oblivion or frozen out by artists and labels. Somehow I don't think those things are unrelated.

  18. mesaeconoguy:

    That's right, Fogerty was embroiled in a huge legal battle that prevented him from playing live for something like a decade...

  19. Mercury:

    Of course. My point is only that parody is protected free speech not a protected livelihood.
    In any case copyright, royalty and patent law is pretty messed up.

  20. Dan Wendlick:

    Different lawsuit, IIRC, though perhaps related. The one that kept him from performing live involved the other members of the group Creedence Clearwater Revival, over the use of the name and performance of the group's back catalog and the assorted residual rights. The settlement gave Fogerty the rights to the group's back catalog and allowed the remaining members to continue to perform under the CCR name and trademarks. Of course this was finalized shortly before the advent of CDs and later digital downloads, meaning Fogerty managed to profit from fans replacing their cassette and album collections twice. The remaining members still perform under the Creedence Celarwater Revisited name, but mostly on the casino and county fair circuit.