Saturday 2 May 2015

Mind The Gap: songwriters unsettled as 'Uptown Funk' gets five more writers

The fallout from the 'Blurred Lines' verdict in favour of the Gaye family and the $7.4 million in damages awarded against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" continues with news that the six strong team of songwriter's behind Mark Ronson and Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk!” have added the five members of the Gap Band as co-writers, making a grand total now of eleven writers. According to documents from RCA Records, which released the song, the original writers - Ronson, Mars, co-producer Jeffrey Bhasker and Phillip Lawrence were writers of the song along with Nicholas Williams (aka Trinidad James) and producer Devon Gallaspy, whose “All Gold Everything” already had “portions embodied” in the song. They have now been joined by the five writers of  the 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head” including The Gap Band members brothers Charlie, Robert and Ronnie Wilson, keyboardist Rudolph Taylor and producer Lonnie Simmons. 

The move follows a claim put forth by publisher Minder Music on behalf of the “Oops” songwriters and of course was set against the background of Blurred Lines and the settlement made by Sam Smith and hos co-writers of "Stay With Me" with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne over similarities to Petty's 1989 hit "I Wont Back Down".  Petty and  Lynne split 25% of Stay With me and it seems that the five new writers on UpTown Funk will split 17%.It seems settlement is cheaper than litigation - both in terms of costs and in royalties ' saved'. 

The floodgates will stay open for the time being. I was watching the Imagine BBC's Rod Stewart special 'Cant Stop Me Now' last night in which Rod openly admits that  the melody to his massive 1977 number one hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" was lifted from a song that he heard at the Carnival in Rio. Wikipedia tells us the song is credited as being written by Stewart, Carmine Appice and Duane Hitchings, although the songs incorporates substantial elements of the melody from the song 'Taj Mahal' by Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor. Again though instead of litigation, Jor settled the matter out of court).  Numerous commentators have noted how nervous some parts of the song writing community now are - as the feeling that 'public perception' of what is (or isn't) a copy has taken over from the strict application copyright law - and even the somewhat criticised (but at least explained) opinions of musicologists - to the detriment of creativity and song writing. The Appeals Court decision in Blurred Lines is keenly awaited by many - although the Hollywood Reporter outlines the range of options open to Judge Kronstadt in that case - including in no particular order, the judge reviewing the damages awarded and reducing these on the grounds they are excessive, the possibility of a new trial, a settlement with maybe 50% of the song writing/publishing royalties going to the Gaye Family, an order of injunctive relief to stop the distribution of Blurred Lines as well as the appeal. Judge Kronstadt will consider various motions at an oral hearing scheduled for June 29th.

More on Billboard here, and the Wrap here,  Williams v Bridgeport Music, Inc, No. 13-06004 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 19, 2013) and in the 1709 Blog 'What's Wrong with the Blurred Lines Copyright Ruling' here.

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