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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Music and Originality

Recently, a Los Angeles jury has decided that Robin Thicke's 2013 hit, "Blurred Lines", copied original elements of Marvin Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give it Up" and that Thicke must grant Gaye's estate 7.4 million dollars.

Robin Thicke (left) and Marvin Gaye(right) 

Both songs, which can be heard side-by-side here, certainly sound similar. I am no music production expert, but I still noticed the similar beats, percussion instruments, and melodies. However, unlike the jury, I feel that this does not justify a copyright infringement charge.

Music, like other arts, is never completely original. Music is carefully constructed to sound pleasing to the ears, and there are only a set number of ways to do this. This is especially true when trying to make catchy songs that will appeal to the general public, what both Gaye and Thicke tried to do with their respective songs. The relative lack of flexibility in making hit songs leads to phenomena such as the "4 Chord Song", the use of the same four chords in a plethora of pop hits.

In fact, taking inspiration from other artists is an accepted practice in music. Using the same melodies or beats as another song is known as a sample, such as Kanye West's use of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" in his song "Stronger". Sampling can enhance the meaning of both songs involved, as described by producer Mark Ronson in his TED talk on the subject. Using the same musical style as a certain artist or time period is known as a homage, exemplified by Mark Ronson's and Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk", an homage to 80s funk band Morris Day and the Time.

As his defense, Thicke claimed to be paying homage to Gaye's musical style, which was characteristic of the 70s. However, Thicke has wavered in his assertions of how much Gaye influenced the composition of "Blurred Lines". The jury has also noted that the similarities between the two songs, such as in their hooks, bass line, chords, and phrase structures, are too plentiful to be considered an homage.

Clearly this is a complex issue, calling into question originality and plagiarism in the music industry. But what do you think? Is Thicke innocent and the similarities simply a coincidental result of homage? Or are the similarities too uncanny and the result of intentional copying?

Written by Jenna M, Homework Assistant

1 comment:

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