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Will recent court decision end up as landmark copyright ruling?

A California federal judge's frustration with a recent copyright case ruling was manifestly apparent in the dissent she wrote in a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 split decision.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen didn't just think her fellow justices erred in their view that one song illegally copied another. She didn't even regard the two examined works as being remotely similar, penning a scathing rebuttal that portrayed the ruling as a clear threat to musical artists.

The majority decision "establishes a dangerous precedent that strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere," Nguyen wrote.

The subject matter at the heart of the case concluded last week in Los Angeles is the song "Blurred Lines," a song credited to writers and well-known pop artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. They were sued by the estate of deceased artist Marvin Gaye, which contended that the song ripped off the earlier Gaye creation "Got to Give it Up." A jury in a preceding trial sided with the Gaye family, with a $5.3 million money judgment being awarded them in the case.

The appeals tribunal affirmed that decision. What is likely to emerge as the most notable aspect of the case is the court's acceptance of the trial judge's instructions to the jury in the lower proceeding. The court ordered the jury members to determine whether infringement existed based only on an examination of compared sheet music.

In other words, the jury never even heard the songs.

And they didn't need to, stated the appeals ruling, given the broad protection that already copyrighted works are entitled to.

Judge Nguyen's sharp dissent cast the ruling as an aberration allowing for copyright protection that simply goes too far. She argued that, while the songs might be similar in style, "They differ in melody, harmony, and rhythm."

And that could only be ascertained by a side-by-side comparison of the recordings, she wrote.

The defense team for Thicke and Williams was unsurprisingly dismayed by the ruling.

"We stand by the fact that these are two entirely different songs," stated one spokesperson following the ruling.

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