A recent ruling by a California federal court serves as a warning to all artists who wish to use another artist’s work.  A jury found that musicians Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams infringed the music of Marvin Gaye.  The suit was brought by family members of Marvin Gaye who control his estate.  The estate prevailed through experts who testified that the song in question, “Blurred Lines”, had similar lyrics, keyboard-bass interplay, and theme to Gaye’s works.  As a result, the jury awarded Gaye’s estate $7.4 million in damages, the largest amount awarded in a copyright infringement case to date.  It sets a new bar.

Furthermore, the case highlighted some of the negative behavior in which some artists engage.  Thicke admitted to lying to the media in interviews, and being high on Vicodin while in the recording studio.  Unfortunately, drug use amongst artists is hardly new.  But the attorney for the Gaye estate was able to use it to his advantage during closing arguments, questioning Thicke’s integrity and credibility.

It is common today for musicians to create mash-ups and other types of works that use pre-existing music.  Many times, they use music without seeking permission from those that own the rights.  This, however, is copyright infringement even if the intent of the artist is to pay homage to another.  Taking the work of one artist and using it for one’s own is illegal under federal law.  And a finding of copyright infringement could cost an artist millions, not to mention his or her reputation as an artist.

For more information about this case, click here.