Pharrell and The Difference Between an Homage and Theft

Posted on March 16, 2015

The “internets” have been abuzz about the recent verdict handed down in the “Blurred Lines” copyright infringement case. Some have called this the end of creativity in music. I call it an indictment on those that mask repurposing (e.g. stealing) as creating art of their own.

Pharrell is famous for his productions. In truth, a lot of what he does is categorized as an homage to other songs and periods of music. I liken it to what Kanye West built his name on: repurposing older songs for a new audience. And it’s a smart tactic. The melodies are familiar to most, even if they’ve never explicitly listened to the song before. And anyone that has ever studied advertising knows that repetition and familiarity are key to keeping a person’s attention.

The difference between Pharrell and Kanye? Kanye openly admits to using source material whereas Pharrell says that material was used as “inspiration” for him to create something similar in sound and feel. With “Blurred Lines,” they specifically discussed Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” as the sound they were looking for. So it is no coincidence that his song is what they got.

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