Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke Pay A Heavy Price For Creativity
It seems everyone agrees that creativity and inspiration are mysterious and elusive forces. After all, there’s no quantifiable way to determine what leads an artist to paint a masterpiece or a songwriter to record the next great radio hit. That being said, in today’s artistic climate, it’s absolutely essential that artists be certain that their recent “Ah ha!” moment hasn’t been accidentally sourced from one of their equally talented colleagues, both past and present. Take for example, the recent court battle involving Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, co-creators of the global phenomenon “Blurred Lines”.
After being accused by Marvin Gaye’s family of copying the legendary artist’s “Got to Give It Up”, both Williams and Thicke vehemently denied that plagiarism had occurred. Their testimony, however, did not convince the jury, who then proceeded to order Thicke and Williams to pay $7.3 million in damages to the Gaye estate. Although Gaye’s family had recently been defeated pursuing identical charges against Universal, the song’s chief distributor and owner, they were successful in their campaign against the co-writers of “Blurred Lines”. $7.3 million definitely sounds like quite a bit of money, but the true legacy of this trial will not be the sum of money paid to the Gaye estate. Instead, the precedent that has been created for similar legal challenges in the future will endure for generations to come.
When asked to comment on the trial, Pharrell was quoted as saying, “Everything that’s around you in a room was inspired by something or someone…If you kill that, there’s no creativity.” These sentiments are, in fact, shared by creative minds around the world. For well over two centuries, philosophers and cultural critics have pointed out that very few truly “new” products are ever created. Instead, the past is slowly transfigured and re-incorporated, helping to ensure that traditions and ideas live on well beyond the death of their creators.
Given the fact that the internet contains record of virtually every creative work ever made, contemporary artists must now acknowledge that the chance of being sued for “stealing” ideas has increased exponentially. If Williams and Thicke truly are an example of what is to come, then artists, product designers, and virtually everyone else who builds, conceives or imagines will have to spend an equal amount of time researching what has already been done as they do on their desired craft. This isn’t just an annoying burden – it could possibly become the only way to avoid a severely damaging lawsuit.
Does the Gaye estate have a legitimate legal complaint against Williams and Thicke? Maybe. A more important question, however, is this: would Marvin Gaye’s children be pursuing legal action against Williams and Thicke if the song had not been so financially successful?
Too many questions are currently floating around this issue for casual readers to even intelligently guess what Williams and Thicke may actually have been thinking at time. That being said, considering both men are seasoned music professionals, it seems illogical that they would actually believe they could get away with unlawfully copying elements of one of Marvin Gaye’s most iconic songs.
“The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else,” Williams stated. In many ways, he is absolutely correct. It seems that artists have always been asked and have willingly shared who their primary sources of inspiration are during the creative process. Thanks to the Gaye estate family attorney , this question may no longer exist. As long as a quick YouTube search can lead to a $7.3 million lawsuit, no creative individual is truly protected from damaging allegations of this nature. Williams and Thicke will, obviously, be remembered for their enormous contributions to the pop music industry. They may also go down in american history as a symbolic “beginning” of a new era of crippling art-related legal battles. Feeling creative? You may not be able to afford it any longer.