The following article was written by MCNA president Eddie Schwartz , a multi-award winning songwriter and president of the International Council of Music Creators (CIAM). This text originally appeared at www.ciamcreators.org.
“In November of this year, one of CIAM’s sister organizations, Fair Trade Music International (FTMI), will for the first time honor individual music creators for the contributions they have made in furthering the cause of songwriters and composers regionally and globally. We’re looking forward to announcing more about these first honorees, and their remarkable achievements closer to the presentation later this year.
There is one songwriter however, whose recent legal victory on behalf of music creators is deeply deserving of acknowledgement, and we believe now is the time to do so.
The name of that music creator is Ed Sheeran.
In 2013 Pharrel Williams and Robin Thicke were sued by members of Marvin Gaye’s family, who alleged that the Williams/Thicke cowrite “Blurred Lines” infringed on Mr. Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up”. Williams and Thicke lost the case and were ordered to pay Mr. Gaye’s heirs $5 million dollars and 50% of royalties going forward.
The jury’s verdict rested on their determination that “Blurred Lines” had a similar “feel” and “groove” to “Got to Give It Up”.
The “Blurred Lines” case left music creators facing a dangerous predicament, one that undermined a fundamental understanding of copyright – that it is a song’s melody and lyrics that are protected by copyright. If “feel”, “groove” or “chord progression” were now the accepted yardsticks for infringement, the gates of hell had opened, and songwriters’ risk of endless litigation, infringement claims, court cases and expensive settlements were dramatically increased, since these are elements often shared by a long history of songs – popular and otherwise.
Ed Sheeran faced a similar case when Kathryn Griffin, an heir to the 1973 hit “Let’s Get It On” sued him, alleging his enormous hit “Thinking Out Loud” infringed on the Marvin Gaye classic .
Unlike the “Blurred Lines” fiasco, Mr. Sheeran won his case. In doing so, he has gone a long way to ensuring that the hounds of hell are back on their leash and we have taken an important step towards sanity. Of course songwriters are influenced and inspired by the music that came before. Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of giants, like Marvin Gaye. That said, we can and do make our own unique contributions to this incredible, rich body of work we call popular music.
There will be entirely legitimate infringement cases in the future, no doubt. But thanks to Ed Sheeran, there is a much better chance that there will be dramatically fewer of them, and that if they do have merit, they will go forward for the right reasons.
As a songwriter, I breathe a deep sigh of relief thanks to Ed Sheeran.”
– Eddie Schwartz, 2023
Illustration by Anna Lidell.