Ed Sheeran’s singing, songwriting and musical talents have seen his popularity soar around the world. Along with the accolades and fame, Sheeran has also been accused of copyright infringement in recent years – the latest over his song ‘Thinking Out Loud’.

Past allegations of copyright infringement

In 2017, Sheeran released his hit, ‘Shape of You’. Listeners were quick to point out similarities between the number one hit and TLC’s ‘90s song, ’No Scrubs’. The scrutiny led to the ‘No Scrubs’ co-writers, Kandi Burruss and Tameka Cottle; and producer, Kevin Briggs, being added to the credits of Sheeran’s song.

Sheeran also settled a $US20 million lawsuit in 2017 with songwriters Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington, who accused Sheeran of “unabashedly taking credit” for their work with his song, ‘Photograph’.

The two said that Sheeran and his songwriting partner, Johnny McDaid, had “copied and exploited, without authorisation or credit, the work of other active, professional songwriters on a breathtaking scale,” directly copying sections of their song, ‘Amazing’.

In a statement, the duo said “This copying is, in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying; makes up nearly one half of ‘Photograph’, and raises this case to the unusual level of strikingly similar copying.”

The case was dismissed following an undisclosed agreement between the parties.

In January, 2018, Australian songwriters Sean Carey and Beau Golden alleged that a song ‘The Rest of Our Life’ that Shereen co-wrote with US-based country music stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, sounded almost identical to their 2015 song, ‘When I Found You’. Carey and Golden sought more than $6.9 million in damages, with the case settled out of court in November last year.

Sheeran’s current copyright woes

In 2016, legal action was launched against Sheeran, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Atlantic Records by Marvin Gaye’s co-writer’s estate and heirs who alleged Sheeran had plagiarised the melody, harmony and composition of Gaye’s classic, ‘Let’s Get It On’, in his song ‘Thinking Out Loud’. The estate failed to properly serve him in the first instance but a second attempt at service was successful.

They say lightning never strikes twice. However, sadly for Mr Sheeran, with this particular allegation of copyright infringement, that’s not the case. In May of last year, a new party entered the fray when a business, Structured Asset Sales, wrote a letter to the New York judge seeking permission to become an additional co-plaintiff in the case.

Structured Asset Sales is a company that securitises future royalties to musical intellectual property – in layman’s terms, it provides musicians with money upfront in return for future royalties from their intellectual property. It then sells the asset-backed securities to other investors.

Structured Asset Sales alleges it owns part of ‘Let’s Get It On’ after making a deal with one of Gaye’s co-writer’s children for the rights to one-third of the song.

US District Judge Richard Sullivan rejected the motion for intervention in June 2018 because he said Structure Asset Sales had waited two years, despite significant media attention over the case, before requesting involvement.

Structured Asset Sales has appealed and in late June, filed its own $143 million lawsuit alleging copyright infringement of ‘Let’s Get It On’. Defendants in the lawsuit include Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Atlantic Records, and Sheeran’s co-writer, Amy Wadge.

It is likely that the outcome of this case will be determined by the outcome in Sheeran’s initial ‘Let’s Get It On’ lawsuit with Edward Townsend’s ( Gaye’s co-writer) heirs and estate.

In January of this year, US District Judge Louis Stanton denied Sheeran’s request for the first case to be dismissed. In making his decision to let the lawsuit proceed to a jury, Judge Stanton said he found “substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements”.

We’ll keep you updated on new developments as they are released.

Copyright Protection and Enforcement

Unfortunately for Sheeran, he seems to be accumulating more hits in “out of court settlements” than on the charts. Defending claims for copyright infringement is not only expensive but it has the potential to damage an artist’s reputation and result in loss of customer loyalty and loss of sales.

As a creator of any literary work, it is important that your work is original and does not copy the earlier work of another party. A substantial reproduction of earlier work in which copyright subsists may result in a claim for copyright infringement. The cases on copyright infringement focus more on the quality than on the quantity of what has been copied.

As the owner of copyright, it is important to take steps to enforce your rights to not only deter a third party from copying your work but also to avoid the diluting the value of your intellectual property.