How many people does it take to write a pop song?
“Uptown Funk,” the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars smash you just got stuck in your head simply because you read it (sorry about that) intially listed six songwriters: Ronson and Marks, plus co-producer Jeffrey Bhasker, Phillip Lawrence, Trinidad James (real name: Nicholas Williams) and producer Devon Gallaspy. (The RCA Records documents state that pieces of James’ and Gallaspy’s “All Gold Everything” are “embedded” in “Uptown Funk.”).
But as of April 28, those six gents were joined by five more writers for a grand total of eleven people. The latest additions? The five writers responsible for “Oops Upside Your Head,” The Gap Band’s 1979 song: the Wilson brothers — Charlie, Robert and Ronnie — as well as keyboardist Rudolph Taylor and producer Lonnie Simmons.
If you’re wondering how that happened, the gist of it is: Mars and Ronson are just here so they don’t get fined. The Gap Band crew was added after publisher Minder Music put forward a claim on their behalf into YouTube’s content management system in February of this year. We’re in a post-”Blurred Lines” verdict world, and everyone is being extra-careful about giving credit where credit is due. It’s no coincidence that this case is coming less than two months after an L.A. jury ruled against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, determining that the 2013 song of summer lifted too much from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” Thicke and Williams owe Gaye’s family $7.3 million.
And that case came just after Tom Petty settled with Sam Smith over similarities between the former’s “Stay With Me” and the latter’s 1989 track, “I Won’t Back Down.” Smith gave Petty a co-writing credit on the Grammy-winning ballad, and Petty released a laid-back statement about the exchange, saying, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.”
Billboard asked Danny Zook, Trinidad James’ manager and CEO and founder of Alien Music, the sample clearing house, if the “Blurred Lines” case influenced Minder’s decision. Zook replied that “everyone is being a little more cautious. Nobody wants to be involved in a lawsuit. Once a copyright dispute goes to a trial, [if a jury is used], it is subject to be decided by public opinion — and no longer resolved based entirely on copyright law.”
“Uptown Funk” could be an even bigger hit than “Blurred Lines,” which held the number one spot on Billboard for ten solid weeks and pulled in $16.5 million in profits, with Williams and Thicke taking in more than $5 million each. For comparison, “Uptown Funk” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for more than three months. With stakes that high — and in such a litigious climate — it’s not too surprising that Minder would pursue legal action, nor that Ronson and Mars would rather share the credit nearly a dozen ways than face a messy, potentially damaging trial.
Billboard learned from sources that Minder’s claim actually splits the song’s ownership into impossible fractions (making the total greater than 100 percent), which means YouTube will halt payment to publishers and put the profits in escrow. Billboard reports that “the settlement, which sources say gives 17 percent to the ‘Oops’ writers, frees up those monies, albeit with different songwriter shares going forward.”