Copyright cases beginning to strike a chord

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Ed Sheeran is being sued by two US musicians over claims that his hit song Photograph infringed copyright in their work, Amazing.

Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington, who penned their track in 2009, have launched a lawsuit in California seeking damages of £13.8m as well as royalties from the Ed Sheeran hit. Documents filed before the Central District Court highlight 39 identical notes they believe were copied from Amazing, which was released in the UK by X Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2012.

Leonard and Harrington have accused Sheeran of knowingly infringing their copyright, stating that the copying of Amazing by Photograph is “breathtaking in its deliberateness, magnitude, and hubris”. The pair have hired Richard Busch, who successfully brought a claim on behalf of Marvin Gaye’s family after Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke infringed the copyright of hit track Got To Give It Up with their release of Blurred Lines.

Cases concerning copyright, authorship and infringement of intellectual property are complicated by the need to assess when a legitimate influence on an artist becomes an unfair infringement on their work. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant successfully defended a recent case brought by US group Spirit by showing that the introduction to Stairway To Heaven was based on a descending chromatic structure found throughout centuries of music, including in the song Chim Chim Cheree from the classic 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins. “In the nest of rock and rhythm and blues, there has always been cross-pollination”, the guitarist said.

The Photograph lawsuit is one of an increasing number of cases being brought against musicians and songwriters as claimants seek potentially huge damages in the courts, with Sheeran also being forced to defend Thinking Out Loud amidst claims that it infringed the copyright of another Marvin Gaye classic, Let’s Get It On.

For ‘amazing’ advice on copyright infringement or other intellectual property, or to understand more about how you can protect your IP, contact Alex Craig on 0191 211 7911 or email [email protected].