The song “Blurred Lines,” performed by Robin Thicke, has been controversial for several different reasons since it was first released in 2013. Its musical video, in a rarity, featured actual female nudity, on the part of now-famous model Emily Ratajkowski. There was some hand-wringing over the song’s lyrics, and whether they trivialized issues of consent. The hypersexual performance of the song by Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Musical Awards in 2013 set off a whole other round of scandal.
Then came the lawsuit. After accusations that the song borrowed heavily from Gaye’s 1977 song, “Got to Give It Up,” the song’s three credited songwriters, Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Clifford “T.I.” Harris, filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against Gaye’s estate, seeking a ruling on whether they had violated the song’s copyright. At one point in the proceedings, Thicke admitted in a deposition that he was “high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio,” and that Williams had did all of the actual writing of the song.
In 2015, Thicke and Williams (though not T.I.) were found liable for the copyright infringement and ordered to pay $7.4 million. Now, according to Billboard, after years of appeals, a federal court has issued a final judgment in the “Blurred Lines” case.
The songwriters must pay a judgment to Gaye’s family of just under $5 million, Judge John A. Kronstad ruled. Thicke, Williams, and Williams’ publishing company are required jointly to pay Gaye’s family $2,848,846.50 in damages, while Thicke must pay $1,768,191.88 and Williams and his company must pay $357,630.96 in awards of profits. In addition, Billboard said, interest will accrue on the money, while the Gaye family is entitled to “a running royalty” of half of the future revenues from the song.
The judgment is especially bad news for Robin Thicke, whose career has very much been eclipsed. Thicke hasn’t had a hit single since “Blurred Lines,” and drew a massive amount of bad press the following year when he split with his then-wife, actress Paula Patton, and then wrote an entire album, Paula, which he pitched as his attempt to get her back. The first single was even titled “Get Her Back.” None of his subsequent music has made much of a dent either.
While Pharrell Williams has had several hit singles over the years, someone like Thicke, who only had one popular song, might expect a steady income from licensing and other streams from that hit. But with the judgment, Thicke likely can’t even count on that.