In the music world, the line between “inspired by” and “stolen from” can get a little blurred. Ed Sheeran has been accused of copying elements of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On for his hit single Thinking Out Loud. It’s especially problematic when the songs are clearly different, even if one was inspired by the other, or was written as sort of homage to the original. It used to be that this kind of building on the works of others was a sign of flattery and something people should be happy about.
The heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the lyrics to Gaye’s classic in 1973 and created its musical composition, are suing Sheeran for copyright infringement, claiming the Grammy Award-winning artist essentially duplicated the “heart” of Let’s Get It On, Thinking Out Loud The track, which became the first to spend a full year in the UK top 40 and has been streamed more than 1 billion times on YouTube, became Sheeran’s first number one single, and went on to top charts in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands, Slovakia and South Africa. It also won song of the year at the 2016 Grammy awards. The melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic compositions of ‘Thinking’ are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of Let’s Get It On. Sheeran’s wildly successful Thinking Out Loud was the first song ever to hit 500 million streams on Spotify, and it won Song of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards.
The British musician is also being sued over his song, Photograph. Songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, who are seeking $20 million, say Photograph is nearly identical to their 2009 song Amazing. Martin Harrington and American Thomas Leonard claim it has a similar structure and note-for-note copy to their song, Amazing. The pair says that Sheeran’s ballad has the same musical composition to their track, which was released by former X Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2012. In documents, that include musical note comparison and chord breakdowns of the two songs, the pair claims the chorus of Photograph shares 39 identical notes with their track. Matt Cardle’s version of Amazing has more than one million views on YouTube, while Ed Sheeran’s music video for Photograph has 208 million.
But, really, this whole focus on these kinds of lawsuits seems really damaging to the way music is created. Being inspired by other musicians or wanting to write something that “feels like” another artist is pretty standard. And it should never be copyright infringement.
Keywords: Copyright Infringement, Music, Ed Sheeran, notes, musical composition.