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Judith Has Perfect Pitch

How Can You Prove Plagiarism to a Jury? Easy, play the piano in Court.

Judith Finell, Musicologist, president of Judith Finell Music Services
Season 2, Episode 6

Ever started explaining something to a friend, and you can tell, usually, immediately, this person has no idea what you’re talking about (you can see it in the eyes).

When that happens, I always make up a little story…

“It’s like trying to describe the idea of fusion to a clueless platypus.” Or…
“It’s like explaining the theory of general relativity to a stupid rabbit.” Or…
“It’s like discussing the concepts of thermodynamics with a slow turtle. ”

With that in mind, the best way to describe this podcast would be,  “Trying to describe Music Theory to a Dimwitted Penguin.” And, in this case, the “Dimwitted Penguin” happens to be me.

That’s mainly because this episode covers the ideas of plagiarism, music, copyright, and the law. Three things I can’t always wrap my brain around.

The background for this episode revolves around the “Blurred Lines” court case from a few years back. It started back in 2013 when the Marvin Gaye Estate sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their single, “Blurred Lines”.  The Gaye Family claimed that Thick and Williams didn’t so much write a song as they just stole the music from Marvin Gay’s 1977 song, “Give it up.”

To me, it seemed like a pretty straightforward case – they did steal it, or they didn’t?  But nothing is ever easy. How do you prove, prove to a jury that something is a copy? Two songs may sound the same – but are they the same? How can you prove plagiarism and how can you prove it in a court of law. Can you even copyright a sound?

So, in the case of, “Blurred Lines,” the Marvin Gaye Estate turned to Judith Finell.

She has testified as an expert witness and consulted in various litigations involving copyright infringement over the past 20 years,

Judith is a musicologist, and she happens to understand music, the law, plagiarism and copyright better than anyone…

From her website
She has testified in disputes for Michael Jackson, Sony/CBS, Warner-Chappell, the estates of Igor Stravinsky and Bob Marley and before the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington on behalf of the National Music Publishers Assn. in a dispute with the RIAA.

Ms. Finell’s firm regularly advises entertainment company clients on licensing and risk avoidance in copyright matters, including HBO, Sony Pictures, Disney, Grey Advertising, Lionsgate, LucasFilms, CBS, and others.

Dimwitted Penguins

It’s an insightful conversation.

We discuss the definition of, “musicologist,” how Judith, “sees” music in her head, How copyright law forced her to play the piano in court, and how she was able to convince a jury that two songs are indeed the same.

Plus, Judith tells us what exactly is, “Perfect Pitch.”