THE "BLURRED LINES" LAWSUIT

Study case; THE “BLURRED LINES” LAWSUIT

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Please read and answer the questions

THE “BLURRED LINES” LAWSUIT

In 2013, singer Robin Thicke released a song named “Blurred Lines,” co-written by Pharrell Williams and distributed by a division of Sony Entertainment. Many people in the music industry believed the song to be reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s work, particularly his song “Got To Give It Up.” Thicke has long professed to be a fan of Gaye’s work.

Gaye’s three surviving children manage his estate. That includes licensing his songs. They did not license anything to Thicke, Williams or the music company. So, legally, if “Blurred Lines” heavily borrowed from Gaye’s music, then Thicke and Williams would have committed copyright infringement. That means using all or parts of a creator’s work without his permission. (Links to the two songs can be found here: http://entertainment.time.com/2014/01/14/marvin-gayes-family-settle-with-sonyatv-over-blurred-lines-lawsuit/).

In the Spring and Summer of 2013, the Gayes entered discussions with the music company to try to reach a resolution. Reportedly, Sony offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to end the dispute, but the Gayes rejected that offer.

Question 1: The discussions described above are a form of which type of ADR? Why didn’t the Gayes have to accept the offer?

It was clear at that point that discussions had broken down, and the Gayes planned to file suit for copyright infringement. However, in a somewhat unusual move, Thicke, and Williams acted first. They filed a lawsuit in federal court in California asked for a declarary judgment, an equitable ruling from the judge stating that they had done nothing wrong.

Here is a copy of the complaint filed in August 2013: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ESQ/Robin_Thicke_Complaint%20for%20Declaratory%20Relief%202013.08.15.pdf

First, note there is no request for a jury trial. One is actually not available in this type of action. All factual and legal claims have to be heard before a judge.

Question 2: Why wouldn’t the parties be able to bring the issue before a jury?

Look at paragraph 4, stating that jurisdiction is proper because the case implicates the Copyright Act. Look at paragraph 5, which states that jurisdiction is proper because all the defendants live or do business in California.

Question 3: The parties decided to file suit in federal court in California. Explain why there is personal jurisdiction and why there is personal jurisdiction over the claim.

The Gayes ANSWERED the complaint, denying everything. Then, they filed another pleading we did not discuss in class: a cross-complaint. This was necessary in this case because the Gayes really should have brought the lawsuit first; they were the ones who are seeking money for damages caused by Thicke and Williams.

They added the music company as a defendant, and sought monetary and injunctive relief.

Here is a copy of the cross-complaint filed on October 30, 2013: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ESQ/gayecounterclaim.pdf

The summary on pages 1-6 gives a good idea of the arguments put forth by the family. They allege six counts, 2 dealing with copyright infringement of two different songs, and 4 dealing with contract-related claims against EMI (a division of Sony).

Question 3: Note, at the beginning of the counterclaim, there is a request for a jury trial. Why is this appropriate?

Thicke, Pharrell, and Emi answered the company, denying everything.

Then, discovery began. The Gayes already had done substantial research. As you can see by skimming the cross-complaint, they had found a number of print interviews given by Robin Thicke in which he acknowledged his song was similar to Marvin Gaye’s. The Gayes also had found video interviews where he said the same thing. They also already had an expert, a musicologist, who noted the similarities between the songs. Furthermore, they had recordings of the songs themselves.

Question 4: If you were the Gayes, what additional information would you want from the defendants to make your case even stronger? Any documents, witness statements, names of witnesses, etc? List at least three additional pieces of information you would want, and explain why you would want to obtain that information.

In early January, Sony (EMI) sat down with the Gayes again, and apparently to maintain their business relationship, agreed to a settlement to resolve their participation in the matter.

Question 4: Which form of ADR is described above? Why are the parties permitted to settle the case while the lawsuit is ongoing?

Note, however, that is only one defendant. The copyright claims against Thicke and Williams continued.

After sending out interrogatories and document requests, the parties were ready for depositions early this summer (note, this lawsuit moved fast). (If you want to see some of the questions asked in the interrogatories — which were very specific and therefore not really answered by the parties — look at the first few pages of Pharrell’s deposition: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ESQ/pharrellwilliamsdepo.pdf).

Both Williams and Thicke were deposed.

The major take-away from Williams’ deposition is that he claimed he wrote the song alone — not with Thicke, and not with any thought about Marvin Gaye. (That is around page 68, if you want to read it). Williams also claimed that the chord structure was a common bluegrass major chord; that his instrumentation was Latin; and he used cowbell in many of his songs, including this one. By making these statements, he was trying to negate the Gayes’s claims that he copied Marvin Gaye’s song.

Thicke was deposed afterwards. He confirmed that he had made up the stories he told music journalists. He also revealed that he was drunk and high on Vicodin when he was recording and when he was answering the journalists’ questions. His deposition can be found here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ESQ/robinthickedepo.pdf

It is interesting to read, but you do not have to look at the whole thing.

Note, however, around page 70, the attorney presents Thicke’s answers to interrogatories to him and gets him to admit that he reviewed them and signed them. Then, the attorney does not ask any questions about them.

Question 5: Why do you think the attorney did that? How might it help him develop his case?

Recently, Williams and Thicke filed a motion for summary judgment, largely relying on their deposition statements to try to convince the court that the Gayes had no case. The court rejected this motion, because the Gayes still dispute the facts. They claim their musicologist can establish that the similarities in the songs are not coincidental. They also want to give the jury the opportunity to assess the witness credibility.

Question 6: Since the motion for summary judgment was denied, what happens next?

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