“Uptown Funk” Lawsuit Could Be Crucial Amid Pop’s Copyright Wars
Copyright wars are nothing new, but as Bruno Mar's "Uptown Funk" goes through litigation for sampling a 1983 single titles "Young Girls". For the dance music community, could setting this type of precedent become dangerous for mixes and production samples?This article originally appeared on Pitchfork
Last year, a jury found that Robin Thicke’s 2013 song “Blurred Lines” had copied from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up,” and a judge ordered Thicke and co-writer Pharrell to pay more than $5.3 million to Gaye’s relatives.
The case is under appeal, and 200-plus musicians have signed a letter slamming the verdict as “very dangerous to the music community.” Within weeks of the jury’s decision, five writers from 1970s funk group the Gap Band quietly arrived in the songwriting credits of Mark Ronson’s 2014 smash with Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk.”
Now “Uptown Funk” is facing another “Blurred Lines”-style challenge over its authorship. A lawsuit filed last month claims “Uptown Funk” lifts key elements from Minneapolis electro-funk band Collage’s 1983 single “Young Girls.” The “Blurred Lines” verdict was a big deal because it raised questions about inspiration and vibe—when does homage cross over into plagiarization? Collage’s case against “Uptown Funk” could move this line to new extremes, potentially stifling the very creativity that copyright law is supposed to protect.
While popular music has been recycling itself more and more over the past two to three decades, intellectual property has become more important to the music industry as a revenue source, says Kembrew McLeod, a communications professor at the University of Iowa. The “Uptown Funk” case seems to be a symptom of those dual trends. “We’re basically heading down a path where people are getting sued over imitating styles, or sensibilities,” McLeod says. “If we continue down this path, the music industry is going to litigate itself to death.”