We’ve covered a variety of recent copyright lawsuits against songs that sound vaguely similar, noting this ridiculous war on genres, and basically outlawing the idea of an homage. Even in cases where the lawsuits fail (which is frequently, though not always), it’s still an extremely costly waste of time that can still have massive chilling effects on creative people. Ed Sheeran has been sued a few times with these kinds of claims, and thankfully, just won a case in the UK.
But, perhaps even more importantly, with the announcement of the win, Sheeran put out a really fantastic video statement that is worth watching about the state of vexatious copyright lawsuits these days.
In case that video disappears (or you’re not able to watch it), here’s a transcript:
Hey guys. Me, Johnny, and Steve have made a joint statement that will be a press release on the outcome of this case. But I wanted to make a small video to talk about it a bit, because I’ve not really been able to talk about it whilst it’s been going on. Whilst we’re obviously happy with the result, I feel like claims like this are way too common now, and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if there is no basis for the claim. It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.
There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify—that’s 22 million songs a year—and there’s only 12 notes that are available.
I don’t want to take anything away from the pain and hurt suffered from both sides of this case, but I just want to say, I’m not an entity. I’m not a corporation. I’m a human being. I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a son. Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience. And I hope that with this ruling, in the future baseless claims like this can be avoided. This really does have to end.
Me, Johnny, and Steve, are very grateful for all the support sent to us by fellow songwriters over the last few weeks. Hopefully, we can all get back to writing songs, rather than having to prove that we can write them. Thank you.
That’s a really fantastic statement. Copyright has long been a complete mess, and one that, in its current form, has done way more damage to creativity than helped it. And Sheeran is no stranger to recognizing this as it’s not the first time we’ve talked up his views on these things. Five years ago, we wrote about how he explained that piracy is what made his career possible. And not in the sense of this lawsuit, which falsely accused him of “pirating” someone else’s work, but he recognized that fans sharing his songs is what made it possible for him to build a devoted fan base.
Furthermore, when his big record label pulled a video down of someone singing a Sheeran cover on Facebook, causing her to lose her account for infringement, Sheeran stepped in to say he supported people singing his songs and got his label (Atlantic/Warner) to remove the copyright claim.
But this is not just about Sheeran. In the video above, he correctly notes that he’s a human being, not an entity or a corporation. But he’s also an enormously successful and wealthy human being who is able to weather these attacks more easily than nearly everyone else impacted by a copyright system run amok. For most people today’s modern copyright system is not doing anything to incentivize new creations or to “protect” artists. It’s doing the opposite. It’s great that Sheeran seems to understand all this, but it’s not enough for a few musicians (and the wider public) to recognize it.
We’re still living in a world where the record labels, like Sheeran’s, and other legacy players in the copyright industries, are pushing for ever more ridiculous copyright laws. In the EU they have Article 17, that is going to make things much worse, while in the US, we have a new bill, pushed for by the record labels to basically break the internet in support of their (not the actual artists) business interests.
The copyright system is broken. It’s great that Ed recognizes that and is willing to speak to that fact, but these lawsuits aren’t going to go away just because he won this one. It needs real change in terms of fixing our incredibly broken copyright system. And it certainly doesn’t need politicians playing to donors making it worse.
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