Being one of the most famous and wealthy musicians in the world doesn’t stop people suing you for copyright infringement. Something that Ed Sheeran is only too aware of. The 27 year old and has had a meteoric rise in the music world to become the second richest UK musician under 30 in 2018.
And at Dawn Ellmore Employment, we’ve just learned he’s settled the latest copyright claim against him. According to the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 November, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs released a statement that claims the parties have agreed ‘in principle’, and it will be dismissed in 30 days should the ‘final issues’ be resolved.
The plaintiffs and the defendants
In January 2018, two Australian musicians filed a copyright claim against Ed and country music superstars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. The Aussie duo accused the much more famous trio of copying a song.
The song in question was co-written by Sheeran, Hill and McGraw as the main track for the duo’s country music duets album. It’s called The Rest of Our Life, and the Australian musicians allege that it is a “blatant copy” of their song, which is called When I Found You.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on 10 January 2018, naming Sheeran, Hill, McGraw and Sony Music Entertainment (SME) as defendants.
When I Found You was written in 2014 and released as part of singer-songwriter Jasmine Rae’s album Heartbeat in 2015. A year later it was released into the charts as a single and made it to number one on the country video chart in Australia. The song was co-written by Rae (who was not a plaintiff in the case), keyboard player Beau Golden and producer Sean Carey.
The contested song by McGraw and Hill was released in October 2017, and was co-written by Sheeran, Steve Mac, Amy Wadge and Johnny McDaid. After a fan apparently let Rae know about the similarity of the song to hers, Golden and Carey took legal advice in December 2017.
This led to the lawsuit in January of this year. The copyright claim was further complicated by the fact that Rae’s partner, Tim Holland, works for Sony and knew about the similarities between the songs. On 21 December 2017, Rae decided not to be part of the lawsuit against Sony. She released a saying she would: “not participate in any legal action of any kind against the song’s recording artists… or their record company, Sony Music Entertainment… my partner Tim works for Sony Music Entertainment and has overseen the marketing for The Rest of our Life in Australia. Taking such action would compromise both his position and that of the people he reports to and this is not something I’m prepared to do.”
Wilful copyright infringement
The Hollywood Reporter first revealed the lawsuit served on the performers and writers of The Rest of Our Life in January 2018. The total number of defendants named in the lawsuit was 15 entities and individuals. The plaintiffs claimed for $5 million, which was reached as an estimate of the money earned by The Rest of Our Life since its release date, both as an album and song in the USA, including TV broadcasts and live performances.
The case highlights similarities at the beginning of the songs, saying that they are: “compositionally vital to the overall mood and musical context of both works.” The arguments put forward to support infringement in the lawsuit include:
- The songs have similar piano-based introductions.
- The chord structure for both songs in the opening nine bars is the same.
- Similar material is repeated during the same opening sections of the second and third verses.
- The phrase lengths and gapping between phrases is similar.
- Lyrically, themes of “marriage, the passage of time, ageing, and the way that a romantic relationship protects the speaker against vulnerability” are similar.
- Sony Records were fully aware of the similarities before The Rest of Our Life was released.
- Rae’s partner Holland might have given When I found You to Sony to promote Rae and it was then passed to the co-writers of The Rest of Our Life.
- When I found You was a huge hit and was played extensively in Australia when Sheeran was touring that part of the world in 2016.
Details of exactly how the suit has been settled are not yet available, but time will tell.
It’s not the first time Ed Sheeran has faced copyright claims. In 2017, he settled another case over the song Photograph and is still undergoing litigation on a claim that Thinking Out Loud infringed on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.
About Dawn Ellmore Employment
Dawn Ellmore Employment was incorporated in 1995 and is a market leader in intellectual property and legal recruitment.