Sandy Wilbur's journey as a forensic musicologist is a testament to the intersection of her passion for music and her astute understanding of the legal aspects surrounding it. While she did not initially set out to pursue this career path, her unique blend of musical expertise, legal knowledge, and analytical skills led her to become a sought-after expert in the field.
Becoming a forensic musicologist requires a diverse set of combined skills. A solid academic background, including at least one higher degree, is essential. Sandy Wilbur's educational journey, which encompassed studying composition, performing, and music theory at Sarah Lawrence College, followed by ethnomusicology at UCLA, provided her with a strong foundation. Her studies in ethnomusicology, specifically her research on Pawnee Indian music, offered her a deeper understanding of music's cultural significance, enriching her ability to analyze and interpret musical elements in different contexts.
Wilbur's decision to attend law school provided her with a comprehensive understanding of the legal landscape in which music operates. While not an attorney herself, she recognized the importance of understanding the laws involved in music copyright and infringement cases. The ever-changing interpretations of these laws, coupled with conflicting outcomes in different jurisdictions, make this field complex and challenging to navigate.
In her work as a forensic musicologist, Sandy Wilbur employs a meticulous methodology. She approaches each case with an unbiased perspective, requesting minimal information about the parties involved to focus solely on the musical facts. By analyzing melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and structural elements, as well as vocal phrasing, timbre, and other technical aspects, Wilbur provides expert opinions on issues such as sample analysis, prior art research, public domain research, and copyright valuations.
Throughout her illustrious career, Wilbur has consulted for a wide range of clients, including law firms, advertising agencies, film and television companies, record labels, and music industry professionals. Her expertise has been instrumental in numerous high-profile copyright infringement cases. One such case was the landmark trial brought by Marvin Gaye’s estate regarding the Gaye song “Got To Give It Up" and the song “Blurred Lines" by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, where she testified as an expert witness on behalf of the defendants. The controversial outcome of that trial sparked significant discussion and confusion within the music industry regarding the boundaries of permissible creativity.
However, in a more recent case, Ed Sheeran won a copyright infringement claim involving another Marvin Gaye song, “Let’s Get It On,” which had the very same issues as the “Blurred Lines” case but came to the opposite conclusion. This and other notable cases such as Led Zeppelin's triumph in the "Stairway to Heaven" plagiarism case, and Katy Perry's success in the "Dark Horse" dispute, has helped shape the understanding of what constitutes permissible song creation and which copyright laws apply. Wilbur has been asked to comment on and explain how these newer cases impact both music creators and the general public.
In today's technologically advanced musical landscape, a forensic musicologist must stay abreast of the latest advancements. Understanding MIDI and audio creation and manipulation is crucial, as the digital age has introduced new challenges and complexities to the field. Wilbur's ability to adapt to these advancements further solidifies her position as a respected authority in the industry.