Citing Sources Can Save You $7.4 Million

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When I heard the verdict in the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, awarding the family of Marvin Gaye $7.4 million, my first thought was didn’t they know better?  A federal jury determined that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had improperly borrowed from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give it Up”.  Thicke or Williams must have learned somewhere along the way that you cannot borrow from the works of others without giving them credit.  Did the idea of plagiarism occur to anyone?

It’s simple.  If you summarize, paraphrase or directly quote from a source – CITE IT!  College students learn this early in their academic careers.  Faculty require students to use a citation style, usually APA or MLA, to recognize and attribute the words, thoughts and ideas of others in research papers.  The Moraine Valley Community College Library offers short classes to help students learn how to cite sources and includes a Citing Sources Guide on its website.

While academic plagiarism and music plagiarism are different, the principle is the same.  Academic plagiarism tarnishes academic reputations and results in penalties that can lead to dismissal.  Music plagiarism is a legal matter usually involving copyright infringement.  It’s about more than borrowing from the work of another, it is about following the streams of revenue and sharing the wealth.

When Thicke and Williams decided to pay homage to Gaye using his work for inspiration, they created one of the most popular songs of 2013.  About 7.4 million copies were sold, generating over $16 million.  Gaye’s estate received nothing.  The court ordered Thicke and Williams to pay copyright damages of $4 million and an additional $3.4 million based on sales.

So, instead of “Blurred Lines” being remembered as the longest running number one single of 2013, Thicke’s biggest hit and a double Grammy nominated song, it will be recalled as the source of one of the largest damage awards for copyright infringement in the music industry and, possibly, changing the way artists create new music.

Let this be a clear lesson, always cite your sources and give credit to the originator(s).  It may save you $7.4 million.  Nothing blurred about that!

To hear the comparison click here.

To hear a CNN commentary click here.

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