Not Giving It Up Yet

Posted: July 15, 2015

A US District Court yesterday issued a ruling which, amongst other things, reduced the amount of damages awarded by a jury against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their hit Blurred Lines, which was held to infringe Marvin Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up. District Judge Kronstadt has also ruled that the third co-writer, rapper T.I., ought to be included in the judgment, despite a jury concluding he was not liable previously, and that the record companies responsible for the record’s release and distribution should also be held liable and required to pay Gaye’s family a share of future revenues.

Background

As reported on by Michael Simkins here, the family of Marvin Gaye pursued an infringement claim against Thicke, Williams, T.I. (real name Clifford Harris, Jr.) and the record companies responsible for the release and distribution of the record, Blurred Lines. A jury verdict was reached on 10 March 2015 that Thicke and Williams had infringed the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up and damages of nearly $7.4 million in total were awarded. The original decision also found that the third co-writer, Harris, was not liable, nor were the record companies that released or distributed the record.

Following the original ruling, the Gaye family filed documents asking the court to hold Harris and the record companies liable, as per their original claim. The family also asked for an injunction to prevent further copying, distribution and performance of Blurred Lines. Thicke and Williams filed a request for a new trial, declaratory relief or a ruling to lower the amount of damages granted by a jury. The judge’s ruling on 14 July dealt with these issues and a number of other post-trial issues.

Decision

The various motions submitted by both parties were heard on 29 June 2015 and District Judge Kronstadt ruled as follows:

Reduction in the amount of damages awarded

Thicke and Williams filed a motion requesting (i) a new trial (which can be granted based on a lack of or false evidence, to prevent a miscarriage of justice, or if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence); (ii) a ruling that the jury did not have a sufficient evidentiary basis on which to come to a decision or were incorrectly instructed; and (iii) a reduction in damages awarded against them.

The judge granted only a reduction in damages, finding that Thicke and Williams had not shown any evidentiary or instructional error that warranted a new trial or other relief.

The judge found that, although Thicke and Williams contended to the contrary, the Gaye family’s damages expert’s testimony as to a hypothetical licence fee on which to base a damages award was admissible but the award of $4 million in damages exceeded the amount that could reasonably be supported by the evidence. The judge reduced the award to just over $3.1 million. The award for account of profits was reduced from $1.6 million to over $357,000, based on the percentage of the profits the jury determined was attributable to the copied parts of Got To Give It Up.

Liability of third co-writer, Harris (T.I), and the record companies that released and distributed the record

The Gaye family’s request for a declaration that Thicke and Williams had infringed the copyright in Got To Give It Up was granted. Judge Kronstadt ruled that the jury verdict of no liability as to Harris and the various record companies (which include Interscope Records and Universal Music Distribution, amongst others) was ‘plainly erroneous’ and as such he granted the Gaye family’s request that they be liable for any prospective infringement of Got To Give It Up in Blurred Lines.

Injunctive relief and/or ongoing royalty

The Gaye family’s request for injunctive relief was denied as the Gaye family could not demonstrate the necessary factors, as prescribed by US case law, namely that monetary damages would be inadequate to compensate them and that an irreparable injury had been suffered. An ongoing royalty of 50% of the songwriter and publishing revenue of Blurred Lines was granted instead, as a less severe alternative remedy than a permanent injunction.

Next steps

The ruling is a positive outcome for the Gaye family, in the declaration that the record companies and third co-writer are also liable for the infringement, despite having suffered a reduction in the damages they will receive they will now benefit from an ongoing share in the record companies’ profits. Thicke and Williams’ attorney is, at the time of writing, yet to comment on the next steps for his clients but the Gaye family’s attorney has welcomed the ruling and stated he would be discussing how the reduction in damages would be handled.

Beth Lawson, Trainee, Michael Simkins LLP