Ed Sheeran Lawsuit — Independent Creation in the Music Industry

Hey everyone, hope the exams are going well. I recently saw this in my YouTube feed and wanted to make a quick post. Apparently, there has been a copyright lawsuit involving his music, which I did not know about (See attached article for more details). What I wanted to focus on, however, was a point he made in the video:

“It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry. There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify. That’s 22 million songs a year, and there’s only 12 notes that are available.”

Clearly, this engages the doctrine of independent creation and illustrates why it is so important to copyright law. Sheeran’s argument holds even truer in some other genres like country music, which is famously said to be composed of “three chords and the truth” because they are traditionally written with only three or four basic chords. It is unavoidable that there will be overlaps between songs (see article below for example). As we saw in the E-wok case, the threshold of proof is rather high to refute an independent creation defense and to establish an infringement: I think that is especially vital to protect the music industry against frivolous lawsuits like this.

Ed Sheeran lawsuit details: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-61008849

Similar country music example: http://www.cmt.com/news/1747657/proof-that-all-country-music-sounds-the-same/


One response to “Ed Sheeran Lawsuit — Independent Creation in the Music Industry”

  1. alison

    Thanks for sharing, Jason – seems like Ed Sheeran has been a fixture in our class this semester!

    This takes me back to that discussion we had in one of our first classes on the meaning of “creativity” – whether creativity is just remixing and connecting existing ideas, or whether it is something wholly unique and original. As you’ve explained, there are only so many notes and chords available for musicians to use in their songwriting – it’s almost inevitable that most (if not all) music will be properly viewed as derivative, rather than entirely original. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – we’ve seen all kinds of incredible creative works emerge when artists are influenced by one another (take, for instance, the Rolling Stones drawing on the ideas of blues pioneers like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as just one example among thousands). I personally think the music industry could learn a thing or two from the fashion industry…