Could Ed Sheeran’s Copyright Victory Change the Music Litigation Landscape? – The Hollywood Reporter

When a jury decided that “Blurred Lines” was borrowed from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages, it not only shook the music industry, but also sparked a wave of other lawsuits. deeds that made songwriters more willing to give credit, whether it was due or not.

After the 2015 decision, John Legend argued that the verdict would set a bad precedent for artists creating music inspired by others. This certainly set a precedent for legal action as other veteran songwriters decided to go after hitmakers they felt were too inspired by their work. Some went to court, others settled out of court, and a number of artists began to extend credit to older songs — some because the melodies were similar, but others to avoid a repeat of the “Blurred Lines” backlash.

But Ed Sheeran’s win last week — a jury said his hit “Thinking Out Loud” didn’t steal key components from Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get It On” — could change the narrative.

“In this particular situation, I think the sentence was correct. There are only so many chords or notes you can play at any given time. I am satisfied with the sentence because [lets] songwriters [know] that if something small sounds similar, you don’t have to pay for copying something that you really didn’t copy,” Jontha Austin, the Grammy-winning songwriter behind hits like Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” and Mary’s ” J. Blige Be Without You”, says The Hollywood Reporter.

Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars have credited the writers of Gap Band’s “Ooops Upside Your Head” as co-writers on the anthemic “Uptown Funk,” Billboard’s No. 1 song of the past decade. The Chainsmokers’ smash “Closer” — No. 3 on this Billboard chart — is credited with writing to The Fray’s Isaac Slade and Joe King due to similarities to the rock band’s hit “Over My Head (Cable Car).” And Sam Smith’s Grammy-winning debut hit, “Stay With Me,” added Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne as co-writers due to comparisons to the former’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

Sheeran’s eight-year battle is over, but the English superstar let the world know that no one left the process a real winner. “We should be able to write our original music and engage in independent creativity without worrying every step of the way that such creativity will be wrongly called into question,” he said.

“These chords are simple building blocks that were used to make music long before ‘Let’s Get It On’ was written and will be used to make music long after we’re all gone,” he said. “They’re the songwriters’ ‘alphabet’—our toolbox, and they need to be there for all of us to use. Nobody owns them or the way they play, in the same way nobody owns the color blue.”

Sean Garrett, the Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer behind hits by Beyoncé, Usher and Chris Brown, says Sheeran’s win is great for the industry, but the music community is still jittery.

“I think the lines are blurred, for sure,” says Garrett.

“I think it’s 1-1 now,” he explains of Thicke’s loss and Sheeran’s win. “I don’t think we’re any clearer. I do not think [this new win] clarified. I still think it’s case by case, unfortunately. This is the scary part.

Garrett says he was super emotional when Blurred Lines lost millions of dollars in court. He felt that artists were limited and had to make music from a scary place.

“It was a sad moment for me. I felt like, creatively, you’re really just trying to make great music,” he says. “I tend to really respect Ed Sheeran and Pharrell as creators and they’re super talented. They don’t actually have to borrow from anyone. They are just so talented.”

He adds: “It felt like a loss. It was not a good day for music. You want to make music from your heart. You want to make music to make people feel good. You don’t want to make music and feel intimidated or feel like you’re worried about a lawsuit. It just takes away the beauty of the music.”

Austin recalls being in Sheeran’s shoes when a singer claimed elements of her song were used to create Carey’s upbeat 2005 jam “It’s Like That,” which he co-wrote with the pop diva Jermaine Dupree and Manuel Seal. The group had to “hand over our laptops and everything to prove we never visited this person’s page or website,” Austin recalled.

“It never went to court. It has not passed a certain stage. But they blamed us. And we didn’t borrow from him, so we were aware,” he explains.

“We have always attributed the inspiration we have taken literally. When you look at ‘We Belong Together’ and all the writers we’ve credited when we’ve used a line,” he added of Carey’s No. 1 song, which interpolates lyrics from Bobby Womack’s “If You Think You’re Lonely Now and “Two Cases” by Deele.

“When you’re on trial and you know you didn’t do it, and you’re accused of something you know you didn’t do, it’s like, ‘Come on guys.’

But this wasn’t Sheeran’s first lawsuit over alleged music theft. The singer, along with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, settled a copyright lawsuit claiming that their song “The Rest of Our Life” copied a song by two Australian songwriters called “When I Found You.” Sheeran also won a copyright battle over his megahit “Shape of You” when a judge ruled that he hadn’t plagiarized another song that claimed Sheeran’s hook was similar to a song he created.

Kandi Burruss — member of the group Xscape and star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta who wrote songs for Destiny’s Child, ‘N Sync and Pink — has a writing credit on “Shape of You” because it was borrowed from TLC’s pop culture hit “No Scrubs,” which Burruss won a Grammy for co-writing. But she says they had to work out the logistics with Sheeran’s team after the song was released.

“With ‘Shape of You’ they contacted us during the recording process of the album. We discussed breaking up or whatever, and then we just didn’t hear anything else about it. But then the song came out and we were like, ‘Oh,'” Burruss recalls. “After we didn’t agree to anything, we thought, ‘Okay, maybe he won’t use the song.’

The two parties bonded after the song’s release. “And we were like, ‘Oh, well. Thank you,” says a smiling Burruss after taking credit for the track, which reached number three on the Billboard charts at the end of the decade.

The recent lawsuit against Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” was filed by the estate of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye. The two sides argued over the songs sharing a similar syncopated chord pattern, which the Townsend family called the “heart” of “Let’s Get It On”. Sheeran’s lawyers said the similarities were common musical building blocks that were also part of other songs currently available, and the jury found that Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge created “Thinking Out Loud” independently.

“If you’re listening to blues music and you hear that popular blues riff [Austin begins singing] — it’s like, ‘Yeah, at some point somebody wrote it first.’ But now at this point, everybody’s using it,” Austin says. “There are so many chords [available].”

Garrett said he understands both sides. If he wasn’t around, he would want his family to protect the music he created, as Townsend’s heirs have done. But he also understands Sheeran’s position.

“To feel like you’re facing legal consequences for something you do with so much passion, it’s just a very scary thing. It’s like, “Can I go to jail for what I love to do?” It sucks,” Garrett said.

“I’m so touched by the situation because it’s kind of in the middle. This is shocking. This is worse than a horror movie.

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