As the weather gets warmer, favourite songs from past summers re-emerge. For many, one such favourite is Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams’ “Blurred Lines”, a song that a Los Angeles jury found was similar enough to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to give it up” to constitute copyright infringement. As a result, Marvin Gaye’s family was awarded more than $7.3 million. In this case (which I will refer to as the Blurred Lines case), copyright existed with respect to the sheet music to the song “Got to give it up”.
This was an interesting case for a number of reasons; however, the million dollar question for most people is – what is “copyright”?
In Canada, “copyright” is defined by the Copyright Act (the “Act”). It provides that, for the purposes of the Act, “copyright” means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of the work. If a substantial part of a work is reproduced without authorization, the copyright owner has the ability to seek various remedies. As I discussed in a previous blog, copyright law protects the expression of ideas in original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, but does not protect every piece of an original work or ideas themselves.
As a lawyer who practices both estates law and business law, the Blurred Lines case is interesting because it serves to demonstrate how different areas of law interact.
What interaction am I referring to? Well, since the claim in the Blurred Lines case was brought by Marvin Gaye’s estate, this a case that reminds us that copyright outlives the author of the copyrighted material.
Pursuant to Canadian law, a person’s copyright generally lasts for “the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year.” Therefore, if one’s copyright interests survive the death of the author, the value of the copyright must be considered by owners during the estate planning process and by estate trustees when administering an estate.