As today is Halloween I wanted to talk about "brand imposters," people subtly posing as others in the context of intellectual property.
When the use of intellectual property starts to affect an entity's ability to make money or blurs the lines of ownership, is it still flattery? Not so much.
R&B singer Robin Thicke has been in the news recently about the use of a familiar background groove in his internationally popular hit "Blurred Lines." He's currently in a plagiarism feud with the late Marvin Gaye's children about allegedly sampling Gaye's 1977 smash single, "Got to Give It Up." Thicke and crew (producer Pharrell and rapper T.I) preemptively sued the Gaye estate after being accused of using Gaye's music. The Gaye family filed a counter suit against Thicke for a historic pattern of borrowing from Gaye's sound and style. Thicke has publicly acknowledged Gaye is one of his musical influences, but the song in question is so reminiscent of the originator's style and sound he appears to be "imitating or duplicating" the "Trouble Man" singer. A New York Times critic noted that Thicke has attempted to be to "White Soul" what Gaye was/is to Black Soul the similarities.
Sampling is normal,so some people have wondered why Thicke won't just fess up. One reason may be that it is wrong (i.e., illegal) to sample music without giving credit at the onslaught of or prior to using the sample. The definition of sampling is "the technique of digitally encoding music or sound and reusing it as part of a composition or recording." This is something Thicke said he has not done. In an interview he admitted he was inspired by "Got to Give It Up"but did not sample it and sought to create a similar groove. If Gaye's attorney wins this case it will set a precedent for intellectual property disputes by broadening the definition of plagiarism. Not the mention the moolah the deceased artist's offspring could make.
While we are on the subject of "lifting" others' work, think about this: When you are on FB and see an event or something someone designed (jewelry, clothes, art, etc.) and you try to duplicate it after you saw it (and were not thinking of doing it prior to seeing someone else do it), is that stealing or a form of flattery? Some believe that it is nearly impossible to prove copyright infringement or intellectual property claims in such instances. I believe integrity should be your guide and nothing trumps originality. The Web is now a playground for taking ideas. Many people want to treat the online space as if it is a gray area with regard to intellectual property. The lines are not as blurred as they once were. For instance the journalism community is beginning to bare down on "infojacking" because frequent copying online with no or improper attribution impacts credibility and rights of ownership of news entities among other things.
In the initial example, it is important to note Gaye's style was his imprint, one that gave us a snapshot of his soul. That's where the line becomes blurry: Are you trying to be like the originator or replace it/them? A USA Today writer details how admiration can cross the line here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2013/10/30/gaye-lawsuit-robin-thicke/3315849/
'"God made you an original. Don't die a copy." Author unknown)