'Blurred Lines' controversy resurfaces as Marvin Gaye's family claims Pharrell committed perjury
Yet another pop-culture revival has appeared on the scene, though it’s not one anyone was clamoring for. The long copyright lawsuit over Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines,” and whether it ripped off Marvin Gaye‘s “Got to Give It Up,” reared its head again after supposedly concluding in 2018.
On Friday, Gaye’s family filed a motion in federal court alleging Williams lied under oath in the case. The motion points to a November GQ interview in which the “Happy” singer told producer Rick Rubin he “reverse engineered” Gaye’s tune.
“We try to figure out if we can build a building that doesn’t look the same, but makes you feel the same way,” Williams said of his production process in the interview. “I did that in ‘Blurred Lines,’ and got myself in trouble.”
Gaye’s family argues this statement shows Williams committed perjury during his deposition in the copyright case, when he stated: “I did not go in the studio with the intention of making anything feel like, or to sound like, Marvin Gaye.”
“These admissions are irreconcilable with Williams’s repeated, sworn testimony in this action that: neither ‘Got To’ nor Marvin Gaye ever entered his mind while creating ‘Blurred,’ that he did not try to make ‘Blurred’ feel like ‘Got To’ or sound like Marvin Gaye,” the Gaye family’s motion reads, arguing this constitutes “a fraud on this Court.” The Gayes are now urging California Judge John A. Kronstadt to reverse his decision in the copyright suit denying them an award of millions in attorney fees.
“Williams made intentional, material misrepresentations to the jury and this Court as part of an unconscionable scheme to improperly influence the jury and the Court in their decisions,” the document continues. “Nothing was more central to this case than whether ‘Got To’ or Marvin Gaye was on Williams’s mind while he was engaged in creating ‘Blurred.’ That fact was central to the issue of whether Williams and Thicke illegally copied ‘Got To’ and whether their copying was willful, and they knew it. It was also central to their defense of ‘independent creation.’ And it became central in this Court’s analysis of whether to award attorneys’ fees.”
In 2015, a jury found Williams and Thicke liable for copyright infringement, and an appeals court upheld the ruling in 2018, with Judge Kronstadt awarding damages and half of all future royalties for “Blurred Lines” to the Gaye family.
The decision was highly controversial, with many musicians arguing the song was an homage to Gaye rather than a ripoff. Rubin echoes these feelings in the GQ interview, saying, “The song is nothing like the song…The feeling is not something that you can copyright.”
The accusations “hurt my feelings, because I would never take anything from anyone. And it really set me back,” Williams says.
“It’s bad for music,” Rubin continues. “We’ve had an understanding of what a song is, and now, based on that one case, now there’s a question of what a song is. It’s not what it used to be…. It leaves us as music-makers in a really uncomfortable place making things, because now we don’t know what you can do.”