The Jury's Impact On Copyright Claims

Over the past year and a half, we have seen two very highly publicized copyright claims reach a jury conclusion. In copyright disputes, the question is whether or not the allegedly infringing work is substantially similar to the copyrighted work. Often times, a jury is makes this decision. Interestingly, we have seen two cases involving high profile artists reach a jury verdict, with seemingly different results

The first case involved the song “Blurred Lines” performed by Robin Thicke and written by Pharrell Williams. In the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, the estate of Marvin Gaye contended the Blurred Lines song was a derivative of the Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up”. Ultimately, the jury decided that the Blurred Lines violated Marvin Gaye’s copyright.

You can listen here and determine whether or not you think “Blurred Lines” is substantially similar to “Got to Give it Up”.

In the second case, the band Spirit contended that the Led Zeppelin song, Stairway to Heaven was a copy of the Spirit song “Taurus”. Here, the jury found that Stairway to Heaven was not a derivative of “Taurus”. The jury simply did not believe that Stairway to Heaven was substantially similar to “Taurus”.

You can listen here and make your own determination as to whether or not “Stairway to Heaven” was a derivative of “Taurus”.

These two decisions demonstrate how it is necessary to win over the jury in a copyright trial. There will be 12 people determining whether or not a certain piece of work is substantially similar to another piece of work. Frankly, the determining factors could have been the reported behavior of Robin Thick in the media (indicating that he was drunk and used drugs) versus the legendary status of Led Zeppelin.

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