Marvin Gaye, intestacy & copyright infringement.


Marvin Gaye, died of gun shot wounds in March 1984 aged 44. He was shot by his father following a verbal dispute that led to a physical altercation. He had been married twice, had three children, and died without a valid Will.

Marvin found fame while signed to the Motown label, with hits such as ”I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. In 1971 Marvin recorded and produced the first collection of protest material from a major black pop singer ‘What’s Going On.’

In the mid 1970’s Marvin filed for bankruptcy and encountered tax difficulties. He developed a serious dependence and addiction to cocaine and by 1980, owed $4.5 million in back taxes.

When he was killed Marvin’s estate, was $9.2 million in debt  and without a Will, it was left to his lawyers to seek the appointment of administrators and to deal with this debt. Marvin’s song royalties, image rights, and the rights to his life story, enabled the estate to pay off the debts and as his albums continued to sell it increased in value.

Marvin’s “intellectual property” was the major asset of the estate at the time that probate was granted. As Marvin was living in California, at the time of his death, the California Probate Code dictated that his children would get equal shares of his estate.

Marvin’s net worth was bolstered last year when his children were awarded $7.4million by a Los Angeles jury for copyright infringement of Marvin’s 1976 song, Got To Give It Up in the 2013 hit song, Blurred Lines. Marvin’s three children filed a countersuit to the one by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke seeking a declaration that:


(b) the Gayes do not have an interest in the copyright to the composition ‘Got to Give it Up’ sufficient to confer standing on them to pursue claims of infringement of that composition; or alternatively

(c) that ‘Blurred Lines’ does not infringe ‘Got to Give it Up’ or otherwise violate the Gayes’ right,”

Interestingly, Marvin’s children inherited his songwriting rights only. Marvin’s performance rights remain under the control of the administrators of the estate (Marvin’s son Marvin Gaye III,  Joseph C. Karol and their attorneys) who did not join in the lawsuit.

If Marvin had made a will assigning the performance rights to his children they could have played his recordings allowing the jury to directly compare them to Blurred Lines, and receive some of the performance profits that Thicke and Farrell earned from that song.

The jury determined that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Marvin’s music to create Blurred Lines. The song had made $16million for Pharrell, Thicke, rapper T.I. and the record company, (T.I. and various record and music companies had previously been cleared of copyright infringement charges). The Gaye’s’ were awarded $4million in damages and $3.4 million in profits from the song, with Thicke forced to pay $1.7million and Pharrell $1.6million.

If Marvin had made a basic will he could have selected executors that he trusted to control his rights. He could have provided guidance as to the distribution of his estate instead of his family having to go to Court to have administrators appointed.

3 Replies to “Marvin Gaye, intestacy & copyright infringement.”

  1. Very Sad, This example of the great Marvin Gaye shows the lack of business acumen by black artists in business of music , it appears to us that they are most interested in being famous, rather than being wealthy. Maybe someone will start a business college for Black artists !! Who knows. However ultimately what they Need are Good Honest Black Managers like Me.

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