U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Rules: 'Blurred Lines' Creators 'Got to Give It Up'

A three judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the family and heirs of Marvin Gaye in the appeal filed by Robyn Thicke and Pharrell Williams. The pop stars appealed the district court's ruling on summary judgment as well as the court's handling of several issues at trial.

Unfortunately for the litigious pop stars, the Ninth Circuit panel ruled that there was no error at trial that could save them, and that the jury's verdict precludes the appeal of the summary judgment ruling. Notably though, rapper T.I. and Interscope Records, whom the jury returned not guilty verdicts for and the lower court held liable regardless, were let off the hook by the appellate panel.

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Thicke and Williams are no doubt planning on requesting a rehearing en banc, and potentially even a further appeal to SCOTUS. With damages reaching into the millions and the controversy over whether Gaye's music should get broad or thin copyright protections due to the generational gap in the law, there are a few rather ripe issues.

The dissent points out one troubling aspect of the majority opinion -- the result effectively means that Gaye's heirs own a copyright on a particular musical style. The dissent specifically states that the two songs are not "objectively similar." As the Hollywood Reporter aptly quoted from the dissent:

Here, the Gayes' expert ... cherry-picked brief snippets to opine that a 'constellation' of individually unprotectable elements in both pieces of music made them substantially similar. That might be reasonable if the two constellations bore any resemblance. But Big and Little Dipper they are not. The only similarity between these 'constellations' is that they're both compositions of stars.

Almost comically, the majority retorts to the dissenting justice that the trial is over and she is trying "to act as judge, jury and executioner." 

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