Music Opinion

Ed Sheeran's courtroom blues behind him

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Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has faced lawsuits over his songs (Image by Harald Krichel | frews.vz)

IA's music man David Kowalski unpacks the uproar around Ed Sheeran, who has been to court – again – over a possible breach of copyright.

TWO DAYS AGO, a jury found ED SHEERAN not guilty of copyright infringement and in light of the evidence presented, I believe it was right to do so. 

ED SHEERAN BACK IN LEGAL LA-LA LAND

The singer-songwriter was being sued for breach of copyright, again — this time, the outcry surrounded his song 'Thinking Out Loud' and whether it sounded too much like Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On'.

Said Sheeran to reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict:  

“I am obviously very happy with the outcome of the case and it looks like I am not having to retire from my day job after all. But at the same time I’m unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all.”

In the past, Sheeran has faced lawsuits over his songs 'Shape of You' and 'Photograph' for "similar" reasons.

This particular lawsuit was brought by the heirs of Ed Townshend, co-writer with Gaye of 'Let's Get It On'. The suit was dismissed once before in 2017, but legal action was brought again in 2019 for the same reason, landing Sheeran in the dock.

Regardless of whether or not you're a fan of Sheeran’s work, I would argue this lawsuit was pretty spurious, reportedly arguing:

'...the syncopated chord progression was copied from "Let’s Get It On".'

Firstly, you can’t copyright a chord progression or a rhythm. Otherwise, Bo Diddley would have been able to sue everyone from The Rolling Stones to George Thorogood for using his trademark rhythm without due credit. 

Furthermore – without going into a full musicology lecture – the chords a composer uses are chosen from a well-defined grouping of notes provided by the laws of nature and are known for their harmonious qualities. Any similarity would most likely be unintentional and accidental.

Sheeran is not the first to be sued for this, nor will he be the last. I would argue there are thousands of historical cases where two songs sound alike that could be prosecuted.

You only get a finite amount of combinations of notes and chords in the Western major scale. There’s so much music that has been written — statistically, some of it is bound to end up sounding familiar at some point. 

Would this lawsuit have moved beyond a mere idea if Ed Sheeran wasn’t worth a fortune? Who knows, but actions like this can have a chilling effect on creators.

Listen to the two songs (above) and see if you think the plaintiffs had a case.

AViVA'S 'ALIEN' OTHER-WORLDLY

Sydney-via-Los-Angeles-based artist and novelist AViVA has been making incredibly bold and challenging music since 2017. Recently, she dropped this incredible piece of other-worldly pop with sombre overtones.

About 'Alien', AViVA writes:

'I lost a close friend last year to mental illness… "ALIEN" is about how no one should feel alone.' 

Timeless words brilliantly articulated in a song that will also light up your next party.

BONES AND JONES — BUILT FOR COMFORT

Formed in Geelong, now based on an apple orchard on the Victorian surf coast/Wathaurong Country, Bones and Jones are a band with the kind of retro-rural vibe that goes down well on an autumnal Saturday afternoon.

The band's bio states:

'Their blend of country-tinged vintage rock is coupled with a contemporary energy that allows them to feel familiar without being stuck in a revivalist pigeonhole.'

'I’ve Got a Voicestands out as a tune with a darker undercurrent in its lyrics over a timeless sound — comfortable, yet well crafted.

FAMILY SHOVELLER BAND ALL KINDS OF COOL

Family Shoveller Band are proud Karajarri family members who started playing in their backyard in the remote Aboriginal community of Bidyadanga, Western Australia, 180km south of Broome. The band specialises in playing a distinctive blend of reggae, funk and rock.

The track 'Blind Man' came out about a month ago with a laid-back 1980s saxophone sound that would make George Michael jealous. Sung partly in English and in language, this track is all kinds of cool. Certainly, a band to keep an eye on. 

SOMETHING FOR KATE: AN EPIC FROM ELSEWHERE

It is the last day of April as I write this and every year, on this day, I recall this epic track from Something For Kate’s debut LP Elsewhere for 8 Minutes, issued in 1997.

'Pinstripe' features an array of cryptic lyrics delivered with Paul Dempsey’s lovelorn howl, backed by finger-tangling guitar licks. The track is a solid argument for why this band should be regarded as a national treasure.

LISTEN TO THIS WEEKS SPECIALLY CURATED PLAYLIST BELOW:

David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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