Ed Sheeran’s having a lousy summer. He’s a pop star and defendant in a couple of copyright infringement lawsuits filed in June and August. The lawsuits claim he stole the melody for two of his hit songs, “Thinking Out Loud” and “Photograph.” One of these lawsuits is well-written, and the other is about to get tossed out of court.
Eriq Gardner at the Hollywood Reporter does some great legal reporting and lawsplains the situation:
Get past the lawyers involved. (The plaintiff in the “Photograph” case is represented by the victorious attorney who convinced a jury that “Blurred Lines” was lifted from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” while confusingly, the one now fighting to protect Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” is a Florida attorney without much of a reputation in entertainment circles.)
Just focus on what was actually filed in court. The contrast is pretty stark. Here, for example, is the way that Sheeran allegedly infringed “Let’s Get It On.” It comes from the plaintiff’s complaint:
That’s pretty much it. How is the melody, harmony and rhythm similar? No word. That will likely become a problem for plaintiffs as copyright law only protects expression — not generic ideas. A failure to specify the striking similarity leaves the plaintiff open to a challenge for not pleading a plausible claim of infringement. Emphatic underlining hardly cures this fault. (The case is being brought in New York federal court, which isn’t particularly friendly to copyright plaintiffs.)
Gardner includes screenshots of the actual complaints, and compares and contrasts the draftsmanship behind the two lawsuits. I wish everyone who reported on lawsuits was so thorough.