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As a judge gets set to figure out what to do with a jury’s $7.4 million verdict over “Blurred Lines,” an argument has erupted between the parties about the meaning of the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For those in need of a refresher, that’s the one that guarantees the right to a jury trial.
In March, a jury decided that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had committed copyright infringement on Marvin Gaye‘s “Got to Give It Up.” The same decision, though, gave Clifford Harris, Jr. (aka T.I.), Universal Music, Interscope Records and Star Trak Entertainment a pass.
In the days after the verdict came, the Gaye family asked U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt to extend liability to those who, “by virtue of their participation in the creation, manufacture and distribution” of the Williams/Thicke song, infringed the Gaye song, too. It’s just one of the many issues now before the judge.
On Monday, Universal Music spoke up in court with a warning that to be held liable itself would violate its constitutional rights.
“The Court may not enter an order declaring that Clifford Harris, Jr., and the Interscope Parties ‘are directly liable to the Gaye family for copyright infringement’ because the jury found, as to this very issue, that Harris and the Interscope Parties are not liable to the Gaye Parties for copyright infringement,” Universal told the judge in a brief. “Once a jury has decided an issue, a court may not ‘declare’ the opposite on that same issue without violating the prevailing parties’ Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.”
The Gaye family, of course, have a different view.
In their bid for declaratory relief, they argue that because their legal claims against Universal are based on the same set of facts that led the jury to find that “Blurred Lines” infringes, “the Seventh Amendment requires the trial judge to follow the jury’s implicit or explicit factual determinations.”
Universal Music would prefer that the judge grant the motion by Thicke and Williams for a new trial. The record giant echoes many of the arguments by those two that the jury’s verdict was unsupported by evidence — in particular, the alleged lack of similarity between “Blurred Lines” and the “Got to Give It Up” sheet music deposited at the U.S. Copyright Office.
But if that doesn’t work, Universal looks to head off a declaratory ruling about its own liability and stave off an injunction and damages.
“To be sure, from the jury’s conclusion that Thicke and the Williams Parties infringed, the Court could infer that the jury found that Blurred is substantially similar to Give,” argue Universal’s lawyers at Sidley Austin. “But the reverse is also true. From the jury’s conclusion that Harris and the Interscope Parties did not infringe, the Court also could infer that the jury found that Blurred is not substantially similar to Give. As between these two possible inferences, the latter is at least as well-supported as the former.”
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