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Songwriters and copyrights: should we feel sorry for Ed Sheeran?

There’s a big issue in the music world centering around copyright infringement, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, and many other notable, and not so notable tunes, have found their way to the center of copyright infringement cases. But were these songwriters actually stealing someone else’s music?

Take Ed Sheeran for example. He is an English born singer-songwriter and like many songwriters, music runs in his family. His brother Matthew composes classical music. Ed may be the more talented one of the two brothers with having created his first LP the Orange Room when he was only fourteen-years-old.

Sheeran has been sued for copyright violations more than once. The first time he was sued for copying Amazing by Matt Cardle on his song, Photograph, which just happens to be his first his song. He has also been sued for stealing parts of Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye on his song Thinking Out Loud. He was even accused of ripping off parts from Sean Carey’s I Found You while writing The Rest Of Our Lives for top artists Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Melody, harmony, timbre, lyrical content is normally used to define the content of music. The fact is the most of the 970 million pop songs written in the last 50 years use only a hand full of chord progressions, makes it even more likely that sooner or later, a number of independent artists will stumble onto a very similar musical expression. Add to the fact that the broadcast of all of this music has been pretty ubiquitous for decades, regardless of the technology used to deliver it.  Most of us still living above a ground have heard many repetitions of these few chord progression throughout our lives.

That doesn’t mean that every copyright case is a simple memory lapse or random miscalculation on the part of the songwriter. Yet, intentionally lifting someone else’s work for the purpose of making money doesn’t seem to make sense either.

It wouldn’t  hard to unwittingly add a musical phrase from a pop song you heard when you nine-years-old into some tune you might be crafting twenty years later. Then again, you can be sure that the public will let you know pretty quickly if you’ve committed such a faux pas. Just ask Ed Sheeran.


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