I have just discovered this latest story about Ed Sheeran being sued over similarities between a song he wrote called Photograph and a song by someone called Matt Cardle called Amazing.
Ed is being sued for 20 Million dollars.
As a singer-songwriter myself I find myself drawn to this story. It begins as many stories have before it… someone writes a song, someone else writes a different but similar sounding song, but does well with it… someone decides it must have been copied and files a lawsuit.
The laws seem to work on certain assumptions that I inherently disagree with. Here’s why.
When I was at school I studied music at GCSE and one day, during our GCSE composition module, I was sat at my table, busily writing out crotchets and quavers for my composition “Steel Alley”. A friend of mine was sat at the piano with our music teacher, going through his own composition, and our teacher was playing what he had written down to make sure his notation was correct. On hearing his melody leap forward from the piano, I cheekily quipped “ a bit of a do, a bit of a do… we’re going to a bit of a do…” I sang this quietly to the theme of the 90s Sitcom “A bit of a do” which was a sitcom on the telly starring David Jason and Gwen Taylor, and instantly our music teacher and I recognised it… but my friend did not… this was the thing… my friend had never watched that program… he came up with that same melody and phrasing completely on his own. Did it sound like it? Yes. It was exact. Did he copy it? No. No he didn’t.
We joked about how we wouldn’t be able to hear that melody now without thinking about the words I had just sung and my friend sarcastically thanked me for my “spoiler” moment… but I saw first-hand how it is utterly possible to compose the same tune as something that already exists *without* prior knowledge of hearing that tune.
In Eds case I do not see how anyone will be able to prove that he had definitely heard Matts song before composing Photograph. If a song sounds like another song, it does not prove that it was copied. Unless there is some connection between those two professionally that I am unaware of.. I can’t see how A) It will stand in court or B) How it has taken this long to surface… So I’m guessing this is a rogue accusation with no connections between the parties.
Music is a palette of colours that are organised to form a soundscape using structures and phrasing like any language. In fact, that is a good comparison to use I think… Art and music.
If two musicians use a C minor chord in their song have they plagiarized? No. That would be like saying you copied me because we both used red in our paintings.
If a melody or section of melody is similar, then the equivalent in Art might be to say that the paintings are of the same subject… for example a sky scene… both paintings have sky in them, both use blue, and white, and paint clouds… has one copied the other? No. are they similar? Probably.
This leads me to the next bit… If sounding similar does not prove it is a copy, then… who cares?
The person who is not making money… that is who cares.
Musicians do not “borrow” or “steal” music from each other as the norm in my opinion. Musicians use the same palette of colours to paint their songs with, and sometimes similar paintings are created, sometimes, as in paintings, bits of paintings might seem to be exactly the same, but as a separate entity, both are works of art in their own right, and neither can be assumed to have been copied of the other.
Plagiarism *can* exist of course when the two parties are connected beyond doubt… maybe 2 colleagues who have worked together… that is very different and is more like a divorce than a plagiarism case. Maybe it is a direct stealing of someone’s lyrics? Again very different despite the similarities, it is far easier and accepted to accidentally compose a similar melody from the restricted range of the musical language compared to the intricacies of written text and the countless thousands to one odds it would be to write something that “happens to be exactly the same lyrics for a whole verse”… Then, it is much harder to deny that a copy has taken place and as such of course should be treated differently but I digress…
On this occasion I am focusing on Matt’s allegation, and from listening to both tracks, I only see 2 paintings that look a bit similar and both have some sky in them… other than that, I really think Matt is clutching at straws for his own reasons *if* my guess that they are not connected is true.
I do not know either way of course… Maybe they are connected somehow? Maybe this is one of those record company things where someone manufactured the song so hard that it got re-worked or something… A lot of maybe’s and I guess the case will reveal the truth in time so I won’t rule out that as a possibility but I have to say, my experience of Ed so far has been very positive, and I rightly or wrongly believe that he sits and writes his own songs diligently, and that if he *thought* a song sounded like another he would have taken it further away, not copied it… just like most other musicians would… which is why I think he hadn’t heard it at all. I can speak from my own experience though, and as a singer-songwriter, I strive to compose something unique as my default. and Ed does not come across as the “shit I’m running out of songs” type to me.
Yes I know I’m not a copyright expert… as ever I am just exercising my whimsical thoughts and I will learn much from watching what happens with this case… but I expect it to get thrown out, as it should. I was rather hoping to learn a great deal from the recent Stairway to Heaven case too but isn’t it funny how that has all gone very quiet now? Hmmm. ;)
Anyway… I happen to have my opinion, on something I do not have all the facts about, but I felt compelled to say my piece because, well… I don’t think the songs are similar enough to warrant anything other than an “oh yeah”. Fundamentally, it is a different song, it is not *exactly* the same, and I for one am perfectly happy for both songs to exist, one happens to be more successful commercially, being the driving force behind the others allegations I suspect.
“Excuse me waiter?”
“I’m afraid I’m suing your chef…”
“You are? Why is that?”
“This meal uses exactly the same chicken and aubergine ingredients that I used for my own dish I’ve made for years.”
You can’t sue someone for using red. That’s fucking stupid.