Faculty & Leadership Blog / Research and Practice

Toni Lester on Robin Thicke, Innovation, Cultural Appropriation and Copyright Theft

Here’s what Babson entertainment law professor and composer, Toni Lester, has to say about the copyright case in the news brought by the family of the great soul singer, Marvin Gaye, against singer/songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams:

“The case goes to the heart of how we decide what is innovative and creative, since this is what copyright law is supposed to protect.”  Gaye’s family is arguing that when Thicke and Williams penned the recent Grammy nominated song, “Blurred Lines”, they stole from Gaye’s popular ‘’70s R&B dance hit –  “Gotta Give It Up.   When I asked Dr. Lester to give a follow-up to her 2014 article, “Blurred Lines – Where Copyright Ends and Cultural Appropriation Begins – The Case of The Estate of Marvin Gaye v. Robin Thicke,” (Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal), she said: “Some of what is happening here is a kind of ‘cultural appropriation’ of African-American generated rhythms and styles, which don’t get the same level of legal respect and protection for their originators as do more European focused melodies.  In my Hastings Law Journal article, I predicted that because of this Gaye’s estate might lose the case, although that does not make it fair.”

The trial is over and the Los Angeles jury in the Thicke case is about to come to a decision.  Let’s see if Prof. Lester’s prediction turns out to be right!