Ed Sheeran is a world-renowned singer, songwriter, and composer. He has become a household name owing to hits like “Perfect”, “Shape of You”, “Castle on the Hill”, “Photograph” etc. His music is characterised by easy-to-understand lyrics and soft yet catchy tunes. Looking back, his career trajectory has been laced with a healthy amount of plagiarism allegations by other artists. These allegations are extremely shocking given that his music has received numerous accolades and has consistently ranked charts in multiple countries. Three of the most prominent accusations of plagiarism are with regard to his songs “Photograph”, “Thinking Out Loud”, and “Shape of You”.
CHRONICLES OF A PLAGIARISED “PHOTOGRAPH”:
The song “Photograph” was released in the year 2014. It was a massive hit all around the world with it setting records in USA and United Kingdom. However, in 2017, claims of plagiarism arose with regard to said song against Sheeran by X-Factor winner, singer Matt Cardle and his fellow songwriters Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington.
The primary contention was that the song “Amazing” which was created and subsequently performed by the aforementioned artists had been plagiarised by Sheeran in a note-to-note format. These allegations were later settled in a non-litigious manner through the payment of damages to Leonard and Harrington amounting to $20 million.
It was said that the chorus of the song “Amazing” and the song “Photograph” had identical and ‘instantly recognisable’ notes which was proved by comparing the same by laying them down on paper.
“THINKING OUT LOUD” IN COURT?:
2018 saw the continuation of Sheeran’s struggles with infringement allegations. This time around he was accused of copying Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend’s hit song “Let’s Get It On”. This case has been continuing for around five years now and was taken to trial in April 2023 in New York. Sheeran was accused of plagiarising the chord progression of the song along with the bass melody and overall structure of “Let’s Get It On”.
In the Court, it was held that atleast thirteen existing songs were found to bear resemblance of chord progression with Marvin Gaye’s hit song. This was put up primarily to denote that the chord progression in “Let’s Get It On” lacks novelty and uniqueness. Subsequently, the plaintiffs argued that the technique of the chord progression was unique, however, the defendant later proved that the same technique displayed was found in two guitar textbooks.
Considering all arguments, the Court adjudged in favour of Ed Sheeran, saying that the chord progression, harmony, rhythmic sequence and overall structure of the song seems commonplace given the varying presence of the same in different songs and textbooks.
HOW ORIGINAL IS “SHAPE OF YOU”?
Everybody is familiar with the catchy tune of Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. When it was released in the year 2017, it became an instant global sensation. For twelve continuous weeks, it topped the Billboard 100 chart in the USA. However, in 2022, the Sheeran found himself engaged in another copyright infringement litigation over the said song. This time around, the singer was accused of infringing a 2015 song named “Oh Why” sung by Sami Chokri. The primary contention was that the phrase “Oh I” in Sheeran’s song was confusingly similar to the name of the song “Oh Why”. However, these accusations were disregarded in the final ruling of this case with Sheeran and his time being awarded almost $1 million by Sami Chokri and his producer Ross O’Donoghue.
When music is copyrighted, one of the main things to be kept in mind is what parts of the music can and cannot be copyrighted. When music is subjected to copyright, there are two major parts of the music that are eligible to be safeguarded with copyright protection. These parts are the melody or tune and the lyrics to the song. The rhythm or groove of the song cannot be subjected to copyright and as such, it cannot be held in court that a similarity in the rhythm can amount to infringement of copyright. While plagiarism is condemned, especially with regard to copyright, the soundness of certain aspects-such as the copyrightability of the components of the material must be checked.