Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson were very clearly inspired by vintage sounds for their 2014 smash, “Uptown Funk,” but another band is alleging that they weren’t just inspired by the styles of the old school — they’re saying the hitmakers straight-up ripped off a song that’s long since tried to funk you up.
Pitchfork reports that Collage, a funk act from Minneapolis, is suing Ronson and Mars for copyright infringement. Collage are seeking profits and damages based on the similarities between “Uptown Funk” and their 1983 single, “Young Girls,” and pointed to “the distinct funky specifically noted and timed consistent guitar riffs” to “virtually if not identical bass notes and sequence, rhythm, structure, crescendo of horns and synthesizers” as proof that the tracks sound too close for comfort.
As Pitchfork points out, Collage are the latest act in a line of several that have either filed complaints against Mars and Ronson in court, or simply stated that “Uptown Funk” bites the style of a previously released tune, naming The Gap Band — who scored songwriting credits for the track earlier this year — and rap group The Sequence as examples.
Whether or not this will get to the “Blurred Lines” point remains to be seen. While Collage cites “distinct funky ... guitar riffs” and other specific musical characteristics shared between “Uptown Funk” and “Young Girls,” the family of Marvin Gaye was awarded a $7.4 million payout of the profits Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams collected from “Blurred Lines” on the grounds that their 2013 single had a similar “feel” to that of Gaye’s “Got to Give You Up.”
As Keith Harris of The Guardian pointed out, a verdict like that of the “Blurred Lines” case could be disastrous for any artist interested in working a throwback sound into a modern song. It has the potential to become a legal liability, especially if the case gets in front of a jury: “Critics of the verdict worried that a victory for the Gaye family would lead to courts prohibiting any unlicensed incorporation of an older musical styles into a new song, severely restricting the ability of musicians to pay homage to their predecessors. If ‘Blurred Lines’ was infringement, some claimed, a retro pastiche like Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s ‘Uptown Funk’ was a minefield of potential litigation.”
Mars is currently promoting his latest album, 24K Magic; Ronson just performed with Lady Gaga at the New York date of her dive bar tour and her Saturday Night Live performance.