Jurors in the recent high-profile copyright court case between the heirs of Motown legend Marvin Gaye and musical artists Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were introduced to high-technology graphics, as well as audio and video presentations, plus expert testimony by musicologists in the course of the two-week trial that awarded nearly $7.4 million.
Copyright infringement suits are common but rarely make it to trial. In Pharrell Williams et al. v. Bridgeport Music et al, since the court ruled that playing the audio of the entirety of Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” was not allowed, it was critical to demonstrate important excerpts of the music, as well as visual evidence showing the substantial similarity between the songs at issue. “This case exemplifies the power of visual and audio presentation and expert testimony,” says Principal Scott Carlin of RLM | TrialGraphix, which provided presentation and graphics support for the Gaye parties.
Scott Duval, senior litigation consultant with RLM | TrialGraphix, worked alongside the attorneys in the courtroom. “No doubt, the use of the audio excerpts prepared by the musicologists and the visual graphics helped the jury fully understand and grasp the issues they were being asked to decide,” he says. “We were able to show the juxtaposition of the similar elements between the two songs, which was important because the jurors were not able to hear the complete Marvin Gaye song” he adds.
Senior litigation consultant with RLM | TrialGraphix, Tom Lofgren who is also an accomplished composer, assisted the legal team. Working with the musicologists and the legal team, Lofgren helped develop a visual constellation of similarities between Williams and Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” “I believe the constellation chart was a powerful takeaway for the jurors. At least one of eight similar features appeared in virtually every measure of ‘Blurred Lines,’” Lofgren says.
Richard Busch, lead counsel for the Gaye family, said it was a pleasure to work with Duval and Lofgren on the matter. “They were dedicated to helping us with our trial needs, and became very valuable members of my trial team.”
A myriad of audiovisual tools were used, including audio comparisons of songs, keyboard-accompanied analysis by musicologists, and live and deposition testimony from the celebrity parties themselves. The trial also included the playing of video recordings of Williams and Thicke, which were used both for impeachment and for extended playback of testimony. Duval led the playing of that testimony in real time during the trial.
The winning presentation led to the jurors’ final determination that Thicke and Williams copied portions of Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up” to use on their 2013 blockbuster hit song “Blurred Lines.”
“It was a high privilege to assist the attorneys in making their arguments. We enjoyed the strategic challenge of making their story visually and audibly understandable,” Carlin says.