The 'Blurred Lines' verdict was big. But what Michael Bolton had to pay sent him on a decade-long legal rampage

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On Tuesday, a jury ordered "Blurred Lines" songwriters Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to pay the estate of Marvin Gaye $7.3 million for cribbing from Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up" on their 2013 hit.

It's one of the largest copyright infringement settlements in music history.

But it's not No. 1.

That distinction still belongs to the case of Michael Bolton versus the Isley Brothers.


In 1994, Michael Bolton, along with Sony Music and co-songwriter Andrew Goldmark, were ordered to pay the Isleys $5.4 million — $8.5 million in 2015 dollars — for plagiarizing their 1964 song "Love Is A Wonderful Thing" for his own song of the same name. Bolton's album, released in 1991, had already gone multi-platinum by the time of the suit, hence the enormous fine.


The jury found "infringement based on a unique compilation of" elements of the songs, mainly the chorus, obviously, and the title.

You can hear why Bolton ended up fighting the judgment for the rest of the decade. It's really a stretch: Bolton's is a pretty cheesy early-'90s bouncy synths-and-horns joint, while the Isleys is a classic rock n' roll song. And besides the title, the two songs' lyrics are completely different.


During his trial, Bolton pointed out that the Isleys' song never appeared on an album, that there was no evidence it had ever been played on the radio in his Connecticut hometown, and that there are 151 other copyrighted songs with the title, "Love Is A Wonderful Thing."

But the Isleys argued that Bolton had professed his admiration of the band (Bolton denied this), and both Bolton's and the Isleys' professional musicologists found enough similarities to convince the jury.


In a 2001 interview with Billboard, Bolton called the decision "an atrocity."

"It's been hell, and at one point when the jury verdict came in, it nearly ruined my life because I felt so much like a child had been pulled from me," he said. "I have no faith in the justice system. Believe not in the justice system — when it fails, innocent people are injured horrifically and guilty people are set free."


He appealed, hiring famed attorney Alan Dershowitz. It failed, and Bolton accused the court of incompetence.

"The three judges that heard the case were not aware of the details of the case," he told Billboard. "I was shocked when one of the judges asked if the song was on one of their albums. She didn't even realize that's why we were there, and the case went to trial."


He eventually petitioned the Supreme Court, with the help of the Recording Industry Association of America. The court declined refused to hear his case.

Despite cases like "Blurred" and "Love," Eriq Gardner, a lawyer and journalist for The Hollywood Reporter, said rulings in favor of plagiarism accusers are actually pretty rare.


"For every ruling against the likes of Pharrell Williams and Michael Bolton, there are hundreds of rulings that go the other way," he said in an email. "Most big-name stars including Kanye West and Katy Perry have been sued for copyright infringement, and almost all plaintiffs never even get to trial."

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.