Ed Sheeran has won yet another copyright infringement case – and that’s outrageous

Ed Sheeran keeps on getting hit with accusations of copyright infringement. It’s partly his own fault, as he himself admits, reported here by the Guardian:

in 2017, he settled out of court after songwriters of the Matt Cardle song Amazing claimed it had been copied by Sheeran for his song Photograph. Sheeran later said he regretted the settlement, as “the floodgates opened” to further plagiarism claims.

Nowadays, though, he fights back. And after triumphing in a copyright lawsuit against him last year, Sheeran has just done it again. In 2022 he said:

There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify – that’s 22 million songs a year – and there’s only 12 notes that are available.

Now he has beaten off another allegation, this time that he copied Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get It On”, for his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, with the same argument. According to The New York Times, after winning the case Sheeran said:

“We have spent the last eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters every day, all over the world,” Mr. Sheeran continued. “These chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before ‘Let’s Get It On’ was written and will be used to make music long after we are all gone.”

Aside from the extraordinary idea that anyone can hold the copyright on a sequence of just four chords, there’s another striking aspect to this latest case. It was not Marvin Gaye himself alleging harm from Sheeran – Gaye died nearly 40 years ago, in 1984 – but the family of the co-writer of the song, Ed Townsend, who died in 2003. Copyright is supposed to be about incentivising artists to create, so the idea of taking a living creator to court over alleged copying of dead artists’ work is particularly reprehensible. Moreover, in this case, copyright nearly caused a very real future loss for culture:

Sheeran had made an earlier claim that he would quit the industry if he lost the case. “If that happens, I’m done, I’m stopping,” he said. “I find it really insulting to devote my whole life to being a performer and a songwriter and have someone diminish it.”

Against that background, it’s a huge relief that Sheeran has won this case, but it is outrageous that he had to.

Featured image produced with Stable Diffusion.

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