In what is turning out to be a particularly litigious year for music copyright, Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson are now facing allegations that their megahit “Uptown Funk” ripped off Collage’s 1983 single “Young Girls”.
The funk group have claimed in the suit that “many of the main instrumental attributes and themes of ‘Uptown Funk’ are deliberately and clearly copied from ‘Young Girls”, including “the distinct funky specifically noted and timed consistent guitar riffs present throughout the compositions, virtually if not identical bass notes and sequence, rhythm, structure, crescendo of horns and synthesizers”.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that a copyright infringement suit has been brought on the back of something as ephemeral as a “theme” or “vibe”. Last year, the estate of Marvin Gaye were awarded US$5.3million when Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was held to have copied the funky “vibe” of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” – the fallout of which must surely have inspired the present suit.
While only one original member of Collage – Larry White – is still alive, the lawsuit has also named the estates of its two other deceased members as co-plaintiffs. Further, while “Uptown Funk” was released some 2 years ago in 2014, the stakes remain very high. “Uptown Funk” is the second-longest number-one hit single in Billboard history, and continues to make the label some US$100,000 a week via Spotify. To-date, the song has sold some 6.1 million copies worldwide, and remains Mars’ biggest hit to date.
This isn’t the first time that the retro-sounding hit has been accused of overstepping its artistic “borrowing”. In 2015, the songwriters for the Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head” had advanced a claim against Mars and Ronson via YouTube’s rights management system, contending that the chorus on both singles were nearly identical cadence-wise. In April 2015, the credited songwriters on “Uptown Funk” had quietly jumped from 6 to 11.
The present suit however, remains the first allegation brought to court for “Uptown Funk”. Whether or not the Court will follow in the controversial footsteps of “Blurred Lines” remains to be seen.
In the meantime, listen to “Uptown Funk” and “Young Girls” below and decide for yourself: