Thursday, March 19, 2015

Retro outlawed? The "Blurred Lines" decision

"The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else/ This applies to fashion, music, design… anything. If we lose our freedom to be inspired, we're going to look up one day and the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation. This is about protecting the intellectual rights of people who have ideas.... Everything that's around you in a room was inspired by something or someone. If you kill that, there's no creativity"  

That's Pharrell Williams warning The Financial Times, of "copycat litigation" in the wake of the Gaye family's successful suit against his and Robin Thicke "Blurred Lines" for ripping off the "vibe" of Marvin's"Got To Give It Up"

"Copycat litigation"? Law suits against copycats, more like! 

"No creativity"?   No recreativity, more like!

Harvey Weinstein, in the FT piece, argues that the likes of Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein would nowadays not be able to do what they did without fear of legal reprisal.  

I'm a fan of "Blurred Lines" but even so, if this decision did actually mean the end of the era of Pop Art / Appropriation Art, it might be worth paying the price of foregoing in future such retrolicious delights on the radio.

Curious about the status of parody now, after this decision...  

As I noted (writing about that Luke Haines New York in the 70s record) (and borrowing an idea off of Linda Hutcheon, the academic theorist of parody, pastiche, irony etc), 

"parody sanctions what in any other context would be dismissed as derivative and redundant. Laughter (and perhaps also a smidgeon of appreciation for the craft involved in these replicas) excuses what otherwise is merely empty impersonation.

In other words: retro is parody without the laughs.

But I wonder, as regards the future for Bonzo/Weird Al-style parody and Mike Yarwood-esque musical impressionists:  will the excuse of mirth-generation and legitimate social-cultural comment also provide legal inoculation?

[nod to Jack Jambie at Dissensus]


  1. I dunno Simon, ultimately the jury decided that the beat was the same, nothing else. Lots of non-retro songwriting has involved "Let's make it a bit funk/bluesy etc" which is what people are worried about.

    Also did Marvin Gaye really write Got To Give It Up?

  2. They should have just sampled it and paid for the clearance. Wired but sampling seems more 'honest' these days. I have some sympathy for Pharrell as influence in music is very difficult to extinguish and the record certainly didn't sound like parody to me a la Zappa's doo woo pastiches.