By Jeremy D. Larson
Last night, a jury ruled in favor of the Marvin Gaye estate in a lawsuit that claims “Blurred Lines” willfully stole from Gaye’s song “Got To Give It Up.” It’s a ruling that could perhaps make litigious what pop music has done since the first time Elvis Presley sang a note on stage: borrow from other songs.
As Keith Harris writes at The Guardian, this case doesn’t make it really set a legal precedent, per se. Most copyright infringement cases are settled out of court so the decision doesn’t lay in the hands of the jury, who are just regular humans largely unfamiliar with copyright laws. The “Got to Give It Up”/”Blurred Lines” case was especially unpredictable. Harris writes:
“Ultimately, the Blurred Lines case isn’t so much about the scope of copyright protection, or even about the schadenfreude in which we collectively indulge when a smirky ass-man has to publicly empty his wallet and fess up to deceit. It’s about the strange, unpredictable entity that is the American jury doing whatever it is an American jury does while we’re not looking. Eight ordinary people, having had the nuances of US copyright law debated around them for weeks, went back into a room by themselves with a set of instructions and made a decision.”
This isn’t a case of using an unlicensed sample and reaping the profits from it, like the landmark Biz Markie case in 1991. In this instance, it’s just a matter of “feel”. That “feel” might spawn any number of lawsuits in which one artist thinks another artist borrowed a “feel” a little too liberally.
The fact is, this type of situation comes around in the news every year or so. This year it was that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” kind of sounds like Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” In 2013, it was Katy Perry’s “Roar” that kinda sounded like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” There’s One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” that kinda sounds like The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” kinda sounds like about four different Police songs playing at the same time.
Bruno Mars’ titanium voice and throwback style will always draw comparisons to the heyday of soul and funk, and his collaboration with Mark Ronson on the latest entry into the Timeless Wedding Jams playlist, “Uptown Funk”, is no different. Should the “Blurred Lines” case nudge in a new era where lawsuits can come flying left and right from artists who “did it first,” then “Uptown Funk” is probably the most litigious song on the market right now.
As an exercise in this backwards universe where lawsuits come at the drop of a hat because a song has the same “feel”, here are a bunch of people who could sue for millions for what “Uptown Funk” kinda sounds like:
Morris Day & The Time – “Jungle Love”
“Jungle Love” a.k.a. the mosquito encased in amber from which “Uptown Funk” was cultivated.
The Gap Band – “Oops Upside Your Head”
Where do you think they got the rhythm for “Uptown funk you up” from?
Michael Jackson – “Jam”
The horn parts are pretty much the same.
Trinidad James – “All Gold Everything”
Where do you think he got the “Don’t believe me just watch” from? Edit: Trinidad James was paid royalties for this, and is the only song “Uptown Funk” specifically credits.
Zapp & Roger – “More Bounce To the Ounce”
The whole “singing as bass line thing” is Zapp & Roger’s whole move.
Prince – “Uptown”
As long as it’s the wild west era of lawsuits, let’s throw this on here, as Prince surely would take license with the whole “Uptown” idea and the fact that it was he who birthed Morris Day into this world.
The Really Wild Show Theme Song
While we’re at it, how about this ’80s BBC nature show? Sounds vaguely similar.
Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters”
If you say “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost” periodically during “Uptown Funk” it kind of makes the song sound like “Ghostbusters”. This is a stretch… but maybe it isn’t!