Keith Harris: Got to Give it Up?

01 Apr 2015

Credits: Lena@flickr

Like most people, I was intrigued to see the outcome of the copyright case between the family of Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.  I was the plugger in the UK for Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up when it was first released back in 1977.

I remember the first time I heard Blurred Lines I immediately thought to myself that’s a copy of Got to Give it Up !  So in my mind, there is no doubt that the correct conclusion has been reached in the copyright infringement case, at least from a justice point of view.  I’m not quite so sure, that in the context of the existing copyright law however that the decision was absolutely correct.  No doubt m’learned friends will still have much to say about this as the case drags on to appeal, and possibly appeal of the appeal.

The original concept of copyright was that if somebody created a work, they then owned that work, and only they could grant somebody else the right to copy it.  In music it evolved that a work was regarded as 50% melody, and 50% lyric. In my opinion, like much of copyright law, that is now hopelessly outdated.

If a layperson sees or hears something that is obviously a copy of something that they have already seen or heard, then the law needs to take account of that.  In the case of music, the evolution of recorded sound has often made the rhythm pattern and beat a part of the song.  It’s possible to make a very close copy of a record by reproducing certain elements of the rhythm pattern alongside certain element of the sound of a record, and it is usually very obvious when this has happened.

Many people complain that to afford this wider range of copyright protection would stifle creativity; I argue exactly the opposite.  Whilst it is almost certainly true that everybody is influenced by something when they create a new work, the mark of true creativity is where the reader listener or observer feels that this work is totally new, which was exactly the feeling that I had when I first heard Got to Give it Up all that time ago – I had never heard anything like it.

In short…

Was a just result reached? – Yes

Is there any doubt about that in the eyes of the law? – Yes

Should copyright law be revised to remove that doubt? – Yes

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