Top Business Negotiations of 2013: Robin Thicke versus Marvin Gaye

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It was a dispute that left many scratching their heads: in August, singer and songwriter Robin Thicke and the two writing partners behind his breakout hit “Blurred Lines,” sued the family of the deceased Marvin Gaye in a preemptive strike and asked for unspecified damages.

Thicke had previously acknowledged Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” as an inspiration for “Blurred Lines,” but he and his cowriters insisted they had not committed copyright infringement. They filed the suit in anticipation of a lawsuit from Gaye’s children.

Soon after, Gaye’s children, Frankie and Nona, filed a countersuit, claiming that both “Blurred Lines” and another song of Thicke’s infringe on their father’s copyright. The siblings also sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which controls the catalog that includes Gaye’s songs, of trying to intimidate them into dropping the case. Sony/ATV also publishes the work of one of Thicke’s cowriters.

Both Thicke and his fellow songwriters and Gaye’s descendants have commissioned reports from musicologists who reached differing opinions on the question of whether “Blurred Lines” infringes musically on “Got to Give It Up.” The story casts a pall over Thicke’s recent success and serves as a reminder of the value of hashing out disputes privately, whether through negotiation or mediation, whenever possible.

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