In the light of the recent verdict regarding Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines,” there has been a several articles positing the doomed future of music now that someone was found infringing upon another person’s material. I’ve been following this story for sometime now and have posted not one, but two articles about the “Blurred Lines” debacle, and I strongly considered writing another article discussing the verdict. But that’s being done by others, and honestly, it’s a waste of my time. All I will say is that my position has changed over the course of this story (I originally did not think the song was infringement, now I do), and I am glad that the jury rejected the concept of the sheet music being the composition:
But the percussion isn’t part of the composition—it’s not in the sheet music—and so Williams and Thicke were free to copy it.
– Kal Raustiala and Christopher Jon Sprigman (slate.com)
Saying that something that isn’t part of the composition because it isn’t in the sheet music is not only foolish because it ignores the reality that music is sound (the judge in the trial ruled that the jury must consider the sheet music chart on record at the U.S. Copyright Office—not the recording—of Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”); it’s also incredibly disrespectful to musical traditions that don’t utilize the conventions of Western notation.
Framing the future of music debate around this spat between Williams/Thicke and the Gaye estate is utterly foolish. We will still write music. We will still consume music. We will continue to copy each other. Have no fears of the future of music, it’ll take more than a single lawsuit to change the pop music industry.
UPDATE, 16 March, 2015 – Among all the various articles and reports floating around the Internet regarding the implications of this decision, there is an interesting article by musicologist Robert Fink; who, rather than waxing on about what the ruling means for the future of music, addresses what the ruling means for musicology and musicologists.