Friday, March 13, 2015

The View From Atop The Slippery Slope

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, 
a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, 
and good men die like dogs.  There’s also a negative side.”
-Hunter S. Thompson

I love music.  I enjoy listening to music and, as is I suppose the case with most people, there are artists and types of music that I favor.  While I love it, I do not pretend to know anything about it.  I cannot read music.  And as the nun who rapped my knuckles for two years while my parents forced me - and her - to suffer through my attempt to learn the piano can attest (I managed to screw up Chop Sticks at the end-of-year recital), I cannot play music.  I cannot imagine anyone alive being further removed for having the label "music expert" affixed to his or her lapel - and that is even taking into consideration that I bounced back from my Chop Sticks disaster to absolutely nail Penguins at Play at the following year's end-of-year performance.  Much to the relief of all concerned, I abandoned my fledgling career as a pianist upon hitting that metaphorical high note. 

While I know scant little about music, I accept the notion that there are only a finite number of notes and chords that serve as the template upon which songs are created.  I also accept the notion that inevitably one song, whether intentionally or not, may end up sounding similar to another song - especially an iconic song that arrived a generation or two before its counterpart.  

As an attorney, unfortunately, I also accept the notion - and have had some firsthand experience with it in fact - that a jury may very well decide a case on emotion as opposed to evidence.  It appears as if earlier this week, a jury in Federal Court in Los Angeles, California did just that when it awarded the Estate of Marvin Gaye damages of approximately $7.4 Million.  The jury ruled that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had copied Gaye's 1977 song, "Got To Give It Up", when they wrote the song, "Blurred Lines", which apparently became the single biggest song of 2013 (I say apparently because I must confess that I have never listened to it) and earned Williams, Thicke and the record company that released it millions and millions of dollars.  

To many people in the music industry, the jury's verdict - which Williams and Thicke announced they shall appeal - might be nothing less than a dangerous first step down a slippery slope.   Candidly, having read (after the verdict) some of the sworn testimony Mr. Thicke provided - both at trial and pre-trial at his deposition - I am not unconvinced that the jury interpreted their duty as playing "Pin the Tail on the Disagreeable Douchebag" and cast Mr. Thicke in that role.   

Will what transpired earlier this week indeed have a chilling effect on creativity, as some fear it might?   I would not pretend to be well-versed enough (PUN INTENDED!) to know but I am inclined to accept as justified the position of those who know much more about such things that the danger of its doing just that is very real.  

Not knowing where else to turn, I asked myself, "WWSWD (What Would Stevie Wonder Do?)"  Sir Duke's position on this issue is clear.  For a non-lawyer, his legal advice is surprisingly concise and decidedly on point.   Hearing him dispense it, I found myself glad that he opted for a career in music rather than the law for while he demonstrated quite easily how well he could do what it is I do for a living, I demonstrated with equal alacrity a lifetime ago just how badly I could not do what it is he does.

Once upon a lifetime ago, a great man once asked an eternally-timely musical question, which question seems particularly prescient under the present circumstances.   Based upon what has transpired over the course of these past several days, I know not whether the current answer to that question is one that would make him happy.

I suspect, however, that it would not. 


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