Why Victory in Ed Sheeran’s court sounds good for the music industry

Eddie Sheeran

You have a good chance to hear a song by Ed Sheeran called “Shape of You”. It has been streamed 3 billion times on Spotify and 5 billion views on YouTube

Sam Chokri’s song “Oh Ken” is less well known. But Chokri claims that Sheeran copied it while composing his highly successful track.

The long-running claim has now been dismissed after a judge ruled that the two songs were identical, not “intentionally or subconsciously copying” Shiran Chokri’s composition. The verdict was undoubtedly comforting for Sheeran, and should be celebrated by everyone who values ​​creativity.

It was also a great opportunity for the music industry, which has changed so much in recent years, to get a clear idea of ​​what is (and isn’t) protected by a law that is often misunderstood.

Simply put, copyright infringement testing has two parts. The first (in the case of a musician) is accused of copying the alleged violator’s music pieces. After all, you can’t copy something you haven’t heard. But it is very difficult to present the actual evidence that someone has heard a song before, so the legal standard is set quite low.

In fact, the test was passed on to other situations, such as the case in the United States where 3.8 million views on YouTube were thought to be sufficient for singer Katy Perry to listen to a song.

In Sheeran’s case, Chokri’s side argued in court that Sheeran habitually and intentionally copied and concealed the works of other lyricists. Chokri’s lawyer said: “Mr. Sheeran is undoubtedly very talented, he is a genius. But he is also a Magi. He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs, sometimes he admits it but sometimes he doesn’t. “

They claimed that Sheeran could have listened to their songs through social media, through the communication of the music industry or through her own interest in the UK music scene.

Sheeran said he had never heard of Chokri’s songs to the best of his knowledge, but when questioned in court, he could not rule out the possibility. “That’s why we’re here,” he said.

This highlights a problem in this part of the legal test, since music for streaming technology and social media is so easily and widely disseminated. It’s hard to deny the possibility that someone has heard a song before.

But the judge ruled that the song enjoyed “limited success” despite Chokri’s “unquestionable” talent and his management team’s efforts to create some hype surrounding the 2015 release of “Oh Kane”. As a result, it is unlikely that Sheeran heard it.

The second part of the copyright infringement test is how similar the songs are – and that’s where things get complicated, because copyright law doesn’t have to protect ideas, it only protects the original expression of ideas.

This basically means that the common musical elements allow the creative process to flow, freely available for everyone to use and draw. But it needs to be carefully balanced against giving artists copyright protection for their original creations so that they can protect, control and pay for their work.

In Sheeran’s case, both sides presented expert evidence from musicians about the similarities or differences in the songs. Chakri’s side tunes, vocal phrases, melodies and the fact that “Oh I” (Shiran) and “Oh Ken” (Chakri) were used as part of “Call and Response” in two songs.

Sheeran’s side refers to differences such as mood, melody differences, and reactions, both melodic and rhythmic. They further argued that similar parts are so common in music that it is merely a coincidence.

Judge Shiran agrees, noting that there are significant differences between the two. The mills, he said, were, most importantly, “ordinary.” Common content is not protected by copyright – and should not be, so it cannot be infringed

The 11-day trial that Shiran ruled in his favor was a costly and stressful experience. But the plus side, as in a high-profile case, is that it has helped to update the role of UK copyright law in the modern music industry.

The first part of the copyright test was considered in the context of music streaming, which makes it difficult to prove that you have never heard music before. And the second part of the experiment, about the similarities between the songs, clarifies which parts of the musical expression are protected and what is available for each use.

The law must strike the right balance between protecting and encouraging creativity. There has been a growing trend of complaints about copying in recent years, which has become a major concern for lyricists. Sheeran even says that he now records all of his songwriting only if a later claim is made so that he can prove how he came up with his own song.

Copyright is supposed to encourage artistic endeavor, not suppress it. Fortunately, the outcome of this case restores the balance to where it is, preserving only the core expression of creativity. This should come as a relief to the lyricists – and the music fans who enjoy their work.

Hayleigh Bosher is a Senior Lecturer in International Property Law at the University of Brunei London.

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