July 15, 2015 / 3:24 PM / 2 years ago

Judge cuts $7.4 million 'Blurred Lines' copyright award to Gaye family

Singer Pharrell Williams (L) and singer Robin Thicke perform together at the Walmart annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday cut a copyright infringement verdict by more than $2 million against recording stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their 2013 smash hit “Blurred Lines,” but offered Marvin Gaye’s heirs a 50 percent royalty on future earnings from the song.

A federal jury in Los Angeles had sided with Gaye’s estate in March, finding that parts of his 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up” were copied by Thicke and Williams for their R&B chart-topper. The jury awarded $7.4 million in damages and profits.

The case has transfixed the music world because it raised questions as to when a song can be considered plagiarized and when it merely serves as inspiration. Lawyers for both sides signaled more legal wrangling ahead.

U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt in Los Angeles said on Tuesday the amount was “excessive,” based on the evidence presented in the case. He pared back the total to $5.3 million.

Kronstadt denied a bid by Gaye’s heirs to stop distribution of “Blurred Lines,” instead ordering they be paid an ongoing 50 percent royalty of the song’s revenues.

Though the jury had cleared rapper T.I. in the case, Kronstadt ruled on Tuesday that he was also liable for infringement.

The attorney for Gaye’s heirs, Richard Busch, said the family was thrilled with most of the decision but is reviewing its options on the trimming of damages.

Howard King, a lawyer for Pharrell, Thicke, and T.I. said that composers should be encouraged to be inspired by their predecessors. “For the benefit of the entire songwriting community, we will pursue all remedies to correct this decision,” he said in an email.

Williams acknowledged in court he had been a fan of Gaye’s music since childhood, but said “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give it Up” were similar in genre only.

The suit cited magazine interviews given by Thicke in which he admitted drawing on Gaye’s song when recording his own song.

Thicke said later in sworn statements he was high on painkillers and alcohol when “Blurred Lines” became a hit and that he exaggerated his contribution to writing the song.

Gaye, whose hits included “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” was fatally shot by his father in 1984 at age 44.

The case is Pharrell Williams et al v. Bridgeport Music Inc et al, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 13-cv-6004.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Rigby

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