TThe verdict is a strong endorsement of Ed’s creative genius, Johnny [McDaid] and Steve [Mac].” So trumpeted Ed Sheeran’s lawyers when they received the news that he and his songwriting team had won the high-profile copyright lawsuit brought against him by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue over similarities between Sheeran’s 2017 hit “Shape Of You.” and Chokris had been struggling to release Oh Why in 2015.
Stay tuned. A major pillar of Sheeran’s defense was that the passage in question – four rising “oh I”s – was such a commonplace and formulaic echo of the pentatonic scale, so overused and obvious as to be almost unattributable. Sheeran even sang parts of “Feeling Good” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” in court as proof of how predictable he was when writing “Shape Of You.” It’s not a triumph for the art of imaginative musicianship in Judge Zacaroli’s ruling that Sheeran “neither intentionally nor unknowingly” nicked or even heard Chokri’s song.
What it gives is a timely recognition of the realities of pop songwriting in the streaming age. The ease of digital distribution has opened the gates of accessible music wide. 2019 figures put the number of songs released in traditional formats over the last 60 years at around 5 million; Today, an estimated 22 million songs are uploaded to Spotify each year, at a rate of 60,000 per day. Somewhere in this sonic tsunami is, statistically inevitable, a song very akin to anything any great songwriter could bang together around their Caribbean hearth. In the face of such monumental outpourings — just as there always seems to be someone online constructing the same meme as you — aural commonality is inevitable, but deliberate plagiarism is far less likely. So the chances of a member of Taylor Swift’s team stumbling across your obscure pop song and using it as “inspiration” for her next hit are, I’m afraid, infinitesimal.
At the same time, the huge income disparity between the guaranteed billions of stream songs Ed Sheeran is churning out and the cents earned from similar songs being lost in the streaming depths only fuels copyright lawsuits. It’s understandable that the starving geniuses at the bottom of the pop ecosystem would want to sidestep all the luck, chance and big label funding it takes to succeed and claw their way to a viable wage. It might even feel like a storming of the Pop-Bastille, a righteous smack for the little guy to the lazy, manipulative fat cats on the assembly line. And every major hit is a potential target.
They also get a lot of encouragement from the courts. Dua Lipa is fighting two lawsuits over her song “Levitating” — one alleging she copied it from a 1979 track called “Wiggle And Giggle All Night” by Cory Daye, whose own mother couldn’t whistle it. And in 2015, the Marvin Gaye estate successfully sued the writers of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” for $5.3 million for mimicking the “feel” of Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” effectively getting — with only a short distance – legalizes possession of “funky”. Two hundred musicians submitted amicus curiae briefly on the appeal, claiming that “the ruling in this case threatens to penalize songwriters for creating new music inspired by previous works”.
The Sheeran ruling could avert such frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits and allow musicians to continue making music without fear of streaming’s ocean of financial piranhas. As his statement rightly states, “A culture in which unjustified claims are easily raised…is neither constructive nor conducive to a culture of creativity”. But that goes both ways; That decision shouldn’t serve as a green light for pop’s biggest songwriting committees, who, without ideas, scour streaming sites for great but unknown songs—of which there are countless—to steal with impunity.
When we venture into new waters in songwriting, we also need to develop a new mindset. If music is to continue as a form of communal cultural evolution, then this traditionally anti-canine environment must be nurtured with a sense of honor and integrity. In any case, it must swear to give credit where credit is really due. This means that acts pulled from scratch are offered the same level of songwriting. Writing teams behind big pop hits should be given proper credit, while contributions from the artists themselves should never be underestimated. Artists must acknowledge their sources and actively seek clearance before being forced to do so.
Ed Sheeran Says Lawsuits ‘Harm the Music Industry’
It’s an ideology that has helped dance and rap music thrive for decades, fueled by the artist rather than money, opening the doors for underground acts and protégés to keep the music fresh. Now it’s time for pop — where a loan is often a writer’s only source of income — to show up. Don’t settle for imitation tunes; refuse to work with “Elster” plagiarism; keep your creative conscience pure. After all, where is the joy of making music when it’s teeming with guilt?
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/ed-sheeran-shape-of-you-verdict-meaning-b2052113.html The Shape of You verdict by Ed Sheeran exposes the realities of pop songwriting in the streaming age