Industry professionals have been accustomed to warning songwriters of the potential legal battles they can face as a result of copyright breaches. However, with the growth of streaming services and multiple teams of writers behind the chart-toppers, copyright infringements are on the rise.
Recently, Ed Sheeran has faced the music, accused of copying the chorus of the song ‘Oh Why’ by Sami Switch in his hit song of ‘Shape of You’. Hayley Bosher, Associate Dean of intellectual property law at Brunel University, commented on the case in an interview for the Guardian. Bosher insisted that the courts must rethink the interpretation of copyright law to cater for the evolution of the industry. She added that “the law needs to move with the times” because “making music is so different to how it was 50 years ago”.
Sheeran’s case is not a new phenomenon for high-profile artists. In 2015, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay $7.4 million to Marvin Gaye’s children who own the copyrights to his music. This order came after the Gaye family argued their father’s song ‘Got to Give It Up’ was copied by Williams and Thicke in their 2013 song ‘Blurred Lines’.
Similarly, in 2019 Katy Perry was accused of plagiarising the melody in her song ‘Dark Horse’. However, only this month the matter was appealed and subsequently overturned with the judge ruling the eight-note ostinato was not “unique or rare”. Importantly, the court held that awarding such a copyright infringement would “limit musical creativity” and stifle the industry.
Evidentially, there has been a shift in how courts interpret copyright. Naomi Pohl believes that the increased number of copyright case against top songwriters “reflects how imbalanced the industry has become”. The interpretation shift has also rippled down to smaller scale songwriters, who now face legal blocks and revenue hits.
If you would like legal advice in relation to a suspected copyright infringement or general music and entertainment advice, visit our website sanickilawyers.com.au or call us on (03) 9510 9888.