In 2015, a federal jury ruled that Thicke and Williams’ hit song with T.I. shared similarities to Marvin Gaye‘s 1977 song ‘Got To Give It Up’ and that Thicke and Williams, but not T.I., must pay half of the song’s royalties and $5.3m (£4m) in damages to Gaye’s family.
After the U.S. District Court denied a retrial, Thicke and Williams later appealed the verdict in 2016, claiming that there had been a “cascade of legal errors” leading to the original decision. Over 200 musicians including Weezer and Black Crowes members backed their appeal.
Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals has largely upheld the original verdict, but has cleared T.I. and the labels UMG, Interscope, and Star Trak Entertainment of being liable. The District Court had later implicated the parties after the original jury found them not liable.
Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in the ruling: “The verdict was not against the clear weight of the evidence because there was not an absolute absence of evidence of extrinsic and intrinsic similarity between the two songs.”
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“The dissent prophesies that our decision will shake the foundations of copyright law, imperil the music industry, and stifle creativity. It even suggests that the Gayes’ victory will come back to haunt them, as the Gayes’ musical compositions may now be found to infringe any number of famous songs preceding them. Respectfully, these conjectures are unfounded hyperbole. Our decision does not grant license to copyright a musical style or ‘groove.’ Nor does it upset the balance Congress struck between the freedom of artistic expression, on the one hand, and copyright protection of the fruits of that expression, on the other hand. Rather, our decision hinges on settled procedural principles and the limited nature of our appellate review, dictated by the particular posture of this case and controlling copyright law.”
“Far from heralding the end of musical creativity as we know it, our decision, even construed broadly, reads more accurately as a cautionary tale for future trial counsel wishing to maximise their odds of success,” Smith adds.
“We have decided this case on narrow grounds. Our conclusions turn on the procedural posture of the case, which requires us to review the relevant issues under deferential standards of review. For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the district court’s entry of judgment against [T.I.] and the Interscope Parties, and affirm the remainder of the district court’s judgment, and its order denying attorney’s fees and apportioning costs.”