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Ed Sheeran accused of song theft in $20 million lawsuit

By | Published on Thursday 9 June 2016

Ed Sheeran

There was much debate last year as to whether or not the high profile ‘Blurred Lines’ plagiarism ruling set a worrying new precedent for songwriters who are, inevitably, influenced by other musical works they hear. Though there remains enough ambiguity in the law that you’d only really want to pursue big time litigation if the song you reckon rips off your own work has been a pretty big hit in multiple territories, earning sizeable royalties.

Do you know what was a pretty big hit in multiple territories, earning sizable royalties? ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, that’s what. Which is good news for songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, who reckon that the similarities between ‘Photograph’ and one of their songs are so amazing that they went back in time and called their track ‘Amazing’. That, as I’m sure you all remember, was the third single release from ‘X-Factor’ alumnus Matt Cardle, who scored a big Top 85 hit with his version of the song in 2012.

If only Harrington and Leonard could persuade Richard Busch, the lawyer who represented Marvin Gaye’s family in the aforementioned ‘Blurred Lines’ trial, to take on their case. Oh fuck me, look at this, Harrington and Leonard have persuaded Richard Busch, the lawyer who represented Marvin Gaye’s family in the aforementioned ‘Blurred Lines’ trial, to take on their case. Let’s demand $20 million in damages to celebrate.

“My clients are professional songwriters”, says Busch to Billboard, just in case you thought he was working for a couple of chancers. “Their work is their life, and I am honoured that they have trusted me with this very important case”. But what’s your case Richard? “The songs’ similarities reach the very essence of the work”, says the legal papers he just filed. “The similarities go beyond substantial, which is itself sufficient to establish copyright infringement, and are in fact striking”.

The legal papers include a comparison of the musical score and chord progressions of the two songs, and claim that the two works share 39 identical notes. “The similarity of words, vocal style, vocal melody, melody, and rhythm are clear indicators, among other things, that ‘Photograph’ copies ‘Amazing'”, the lawsuit goes on, before concluding that those similarities are “instantly recognisable to the ordinary observer”.

Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid is the co-writer on ‘Photograph’, and both he and Sheeran are defendants in the case, as are Sheeran’s label Warner Music, and publishers Sony/ATV and Polar Patrol, the latter the publishing firm set up by members of Snow Patrol, to which McDaid was signed, and which was acquired by Spirit B-Unique last month.

Bullish Busch is pushing for mega-damages in this case, and for his clients to start receiving ‘Photograph’ royalties. It remains to be seen if this one goes all the way to court like the headline-grabbing ‘Blurred Lines’ dispute, or whether one of those out of court settlements can keep it all behind closed doors.

If it does go to court, beyond any facts presented regarding the writing of ‘Photograph’ and its writers’ previous exposure, or not, to ‘Amazing’, it will again put the spotlight on how copyright law deals with similar sounding songs.

Now, here you are, both songs for you to play side-by-side, to see if you can spot the amazing, photographic similarities: