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Ed Sheeran Settles “Amazing” Plagiarism Claims

Despite writing so many hits for others that purportedly he cannot remember them all, for Ed Sheeran it was thirty nine notes he kept for himself that he might like to forget.

The singer has recently settled a $21 million claim alleging that he copied his 2014 single “Photograph” “note for note” from a song from X Factor winner Matt Cardle.  The songwriters behind “Amazing” released in 2014 said that the chorus’ shared thirty identical notes.

It was alleged that Sheeran and his co-writer had copied and exploited the work of other songwriters “on a breath-taking scale”.  It was also alleged that some of the music had been copied on a “note for note” basis.  Although the case which was dealt with in a Californian court was dismissed following on from an out of court settlement, Matt Cardle generously acknowledged “I think Ed Sheeran is a genius and a hundred percent deserves his success”. 

Meanwhile, the settlement came some two weeks after, new writers were credited on another Ed Sheeran song “Shape of You” and indeed followed claims the previous year that Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” had been copied from Marvin Gay’s “Let’s Get It On”.

The case follows on from a number of high profile celebrity cases concerning copying from other artists.  In particular, there was a very prominent action brought by the family of the late Marvin Gay concerning copy infringement against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for “Blurred Lines” in 2015.

It is in fact understood that, the two writers of the Matt Cardle song immediately instructed the legal team who had in fact annihilated Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in the previous law suit.

Although these are extremely high profile cases, it is in fact an area where, we receive frequent enquiries from artists and music writers who are similarly concerned that their music has been copied by other artists. 

Specialist legal advice is readily available from our Greg Evans at Sinclairslaw who is not only the Head of our Entertainment team but also, a lifelong performing musician himself.

In most cases of melody/based plagiarism it is usual to call in a forensic musicologist.  It is believed to be almost impossible that, two melodies will come out identically through coincidence.  Mathematically the chances of this happening are said to be astronomical.

There is however a difference between copying and music plagiarism.  If it can be shown that, a complainant’s song was itself based on something else then, often, a case will fall apart.  Often, music might be out of copyright, like a Mozart tune and then, if the melody pre-existed, any later identical melody would not by definition be an original, so could not be copied as such.

It is generally acknowledged that all self-aware creatives, can be beset by doubt, that their idea may not be original.  This happens to such a degree that, inadvertent plagiarism or indeed mistaking a memory for a new idea, even has a name which is “Cryptomnesia”.  

It may also be a rare song writer who has not put a triumphant finishing touch to a song only to realise he may have copied a well-known hit.

It would however be a mistake to imagine that the forensic musicologist has an easy role.  In the “blurred lines” case, Thicke and Williams attempted to explain the “vibe” cannot be copyrighted, but the perhaps controversial outcome of the case was that copying the “field” and “sound” of another song could be seen as effectively copying.

Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran has gone on to write hits for many of the most popular artists of the day including One Direction, Jessie Ware and Justin Bieber. 

Sheeran recently admitted when one of his songs reached number one in seventeen countries, the Major Lazers “Coldwater”, that he could not actually recall writing it…….

If you need to discuss matters concerning breach of copyright or musical plagiarism contact our Greg Evans at our Cardiff offices on 02920 388398

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