...settling Sheeran’s song suit
In the latest in a string of high profile copyright infringement cases involving musicians, Ed Sheeran has settled out of court over a claim he ‘copied’ a song originally released by an X Factor winner.
Luke Corcoran, a Commercial Litigation Solicitor with Simpson Millar, takes a look at the case and explains how copyright protects creatively minded from unauthorised appropriation of their work.
Why Was Ed Sheeran Being Sued?
Ed Sheeran found himself in a spot of bother when it was claimed his hit single ‘Photograph’, which did serious numbers on the streaming front, ripped off “note-for-note” a track released by former X Factor champ, Matt Cardle.
The lawsuit brought by the writers of the Cardle song, titled ‘Amazing’, was gunning for a cool £16million in damages for what was said to be:
“… in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying … [making] up nearly one half of Photograph … [copying] and [exploiting], without authorisation or credit … on a breathtaking scale.”
The songwriting duo of Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington also stated that the chorus of both songs shared 39 identical notes; an “unabashed” lifting that was “instantly recognisable to the ordinary observer”.
What Does UK Copyright Law Say About Copyright Infringement?
Although the lawsuit was filed in the US, where they have an affinity for this type of case – just ask Pharrell Williams, Led Zeppelin and Sam Smith, who have all had their own plagiarism ‘difficulties’ to deal with of late – here in the UK copyright law remains firm in protecting the rights of what is referred to as the ‘first owner of copyright’.
First owner of copyright is generally classed as the person or persons who created the work to which the copyright applies. This can differ in cases where the a work is produced as part of employment, whereby the employer will usually retain copyright, or instances of freelance work, where the commissioning party will often arrange by contract to assume copyright as part of the conditions of payment.
It is the prerogative of the first owner of copyright (and nobody else) to then use, distribute, perform or adapt their work in any way they see fit, including selling on the copyright to another party, who will then acquire these rights.
In the majority of cases, copyright remains with the owner (or their estate) for 70 years after death, upon which it expires and the work passes into the public domain.
In the event that a copyright infringement is perceived to have occurred, it falls upon the owner to prove this to be the case. The two songwriters asserted that their copyright was infringed by Ed Sheeran plagiarising a substantial portion of their original song ‘Amazing’. Had it reached court, it would have been down to their representatives to convince a jury this was the case.
UK copyright law applies to all literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, along with the typographical arrangements of published editions, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, and cable programmes.
When it first emerged in June 2016 that the claim had been lodged against him, the Suffolk-born singer commented that the allegations were “scandalous” and that the situation was “too complicated”, requesting, via his lawyers, that the complaint be amended or dismissed because it was too long.
The claim was eventually dismissed by a Californian judge, following an undisclosed out of court settlement.
“It is interesting to note that this copyright dispute was resolved privately, meaning we can only speculate on the figure the two parties settled upon.”
“Copyright is a complex area of UK law and one that can hold serious consequences for those who breach it. Away from the glamour of high flying pop stars, copying, issuing, adapting or using someone’s work in any other way than that which it was intended for, without the copyright holder’s permission, is unlawful.”
“The laws are there to protect intellectual property owners from exploitation and the loss of potential earnings. With the possibility of damages running into the thousands, parties should always take care to avoid breaching someone else’s copyright.”
Written by Luke Corcoran.
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