There are quite a few high-profile copyright lawsuits happening with music this year: Led Zeppelin is currently in court over “Stairway to Heaven,” Justin Bieber and his producer Skrillex are facing a suit over hit song “Sorry,” and Kanye West has been sued over “New Slaves.” Now, English pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is being sued in the United States District Court for the Central District of California over “Photograph,” from his 2014 album x (said as “multiply”). The song has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, and was recently featured in the trailer for Me Before You and the movie itself.
Songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard claim that Sheeran illegally copied their 2009 song “Amazing,” which was recorded by Matt Cardle, the winner of the 2010 season of The X Factor. “This copying is, in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying, makes up nearly one-half of ‘Photograph,’ and raises this case to the unusual level of strikingly similar copying,” says the complaint. “The chorus sections of ‘Amazing’ and the infringing ‘Photograph’ share 39 identical notes – meaning the notes are identical in pitch, rhythmic duration, and placement in the measure. In other words, out of the 61 notes in the chorus section of ‘Photograph,’ approximately 70 percent of the notes are identical to or substantially related to notes in the chorus section of ‘Amazing.’ Further, 64 percent of the notes in the chorus section of ‘Photograph’ are identical to the notes in the chorus section of ‘Amazing.’” The complaint then goes on to meticulously outline the similarities in the choruses.
People have openly discussed similarities between “Photograph” and “Amazing” on their own online, and there are YouTube video analyses of the songs. Details in this case mirror what happened with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” a case that drew a lot of attention from the music industry and media. Suspicions that Thicke’s song had copied Gaye’s s began floating around social media sites and picked up steam long before the parties went to court; people even created “mashups” of the two songs. Interestingly enough, Harrington and Leonard’s lawyer, Richard Busch, represented Gaye’s estate in that suit. A jury awarded the estate a whopping $5.3 million. The outcome was heavily criticized by the music industry.
This complaint notes that the plaintiffs and Sheeran were unable to settle the matter without litigation.
The Ninth Circuit, the appellate court for the Central District of California, recently ruled in favor of Madonna in a copyright suit against her, finding that the sampling of another’s song in her hit “Vogue” was trivial.
For more on this suit and others like it, stay tuned to The Fried Firm blog.